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ND Women’s Golf: Freshman Zhang makes early mark

Meaghan Veselik | Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Freshman Nicole Zhang made Irish history when she competed in the 2010 U.S. Women’s Golf Open at the nationally acclaimed Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pa., during the summer, becoming the first member of the Irish program to do so. And she did so before ever stepping onto campus as a student or competing at the collegiate level.

Ranked the No. 10 national recruit by Golfweek, Zhang, a Calgary, Alberta native, was one of four Canadians competing in the U.S. Open. She shot two rounds of 78 for a 14-over total of 156, which missed the cut by a mere four strokes.

Zhang brings much more experience to the team than just the U.S. Open, although it was probably one of her toughest competitions yet. Irish coach Susan Holt referred to Zhang as “not your typical freshman” because of her extensive experience in playing at an elevated level. She has played in numerous major USGA Amatuer Golf Championships as well as in multiple other events as an amateur, while also having the opportunity to beat professional golfers on more than one occasion. Zhang’s experiences have helped mold her into the strong player she is today, making her a valuable weapon the Irish team has already benefitted from in winning their first two tournaments.

“On the course she is very focused and has an aggressive style of play which allows her to have many birdie chances during each round,” Holt said. “When she is on she is tough to beat. Her teammates have a great deal of respect for her and he game. I have players that have asked to play with Nicole during practice so they can watch her and learn from her. I think that is the ultimate compliment one teammate can give to another.”

Holt also has been impressed with how Zhang continuously handles the pressure of a large tournament.

“I don’t think she feels pressure. She just plays the game the way she knows how,” Holt said. “She is very even-tempered on the course which is a great attribute to have to play good golf. I never know how she is playing because she carries herself the same all the time. She is very confident in her ability and I don’t think she ever doubts her ability. For this I am glad she is on our team because as an opponent she is tough to beat.”

Golf has had a larger role in Zhang’s life than what is reflected in her achievements and the effect she has already had on her teammates.

Zhang and her older brother Dustin, a senior on the Irish men’s golf team, grew up on a golf course in Calgary. Once Dustin started playing, Nicole simply followed, beginning to play at age six. Dustin’s role on the men’s team also influenced Nicole’s decision to attend Notre Dame. Multiple visits over the past few years and an introduction to the Irish coaches drew Nicole in and helped her make her decision.

“We got lucky to have her really want to come here,” Holt said. “Obviously we hoped that she would as she is a wonderful young lady and a great golf talent.”

Although a successful athlete in her own right, Zhang never stops caring about her teammates during a match, often asking her coaches how everyone else is playing.

“She cares about the team aspect and wants her teammates to play well,” Holt said.

Zhang and the Irish have taken first in both of their tournaments this fall, most recently winning the title at their own William K. Warren Invitational, where Zhang took second overall. Notre Dame will return to the golf course this weekend at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship on Oct. 8-9 in Knoxville, Tenn., where the Irish will look to secure their third straight win.