Two of the most highly touted amateur golfers in the world kick-started their professional careers in excellent fashion on Thursday.
U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett, who became a household name while playing in the final Saturday group at the Masters in April, carded a 1-under par round of 71 at The Memorial Tournament. That had him tied with the likes of two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland.
"I was locked in," said Bennett, who carded four birdies against three bogeys on Thursday. "I played the Masters. I made the cut at the U.S. Open last year. I played Arnold Palmer, Valero, a tournament in Dubai. So I kind of know what it's like a little bit out here and what it takes to be successful.
"I'm experienced... only thing now I got to worry about is playing good golf."
Despite Bennett's experience on the major stage, Zhang's professional debut has been even more highly anticipated. In just two years at Stanford, she posted a school-record 12 wins in 20 events, and in only 10 events in 2022-23 she tied Tiger Woods' single-season school record of eight titles.
The No. 1-ranked women's amateur in the world, Zhang did not disappoint with a 2-under 70 in the first round of the Mizuho Americas Open on Thursday. Like Bennett, she offset a trio of bogeys with five birdies.
"It was amazing. It felt pretty regular throughout out round once I got into the zone," Zhang said. "But the anticipation was for sure there. I feel like there has been a lot of things happening the last couple days and last couple weeks, so for me to come out here and just try to stay composed, I feel like I did a pretty good job at it.
"Tried my best out there."
Both players went out in the morning wave of their respective tournaments and are in excellent position to make the cut in their first professional tournaments.
"That's just the beauty of golf. You're always going to be on edge," said Zhang, who was five shots behind the morning lead of 7 under set by Lauren Hartlage. "I'm a competitor. ... This field is very hard. It's not a field that I've competed in on the regular, so I'm still trying to play the best I can.
"Knowing that there is a lot of great scores out there, I'm still trying to do the best that I can do."
Meanwhile, Bennett is preparing for life on the road as a professional. No matter what happens on Friday, he is driving to the RBC Canadian Open next week before heading to Los Angeles for the U.S. Open the following week.
That's on the heels of returning to Texas AM and competing with his teammates in the NCAA Championships last weekend.
"It's kind of crazy. Last night I was thinking I was like, 'Man, I won't be home for a while,'" he said. "It's kind of lonely at times from what I hear.
"But it's great. This is right where I want to be, right where I've always wanted to do and I'm looking to seize the opportunity."
--Field Level Media