By Charles Awalt, Communication Services
Freshman walk-on Wanasa Zhou came to the University of Arizona women’s golf team having little tournament experience, but a fairly impressive junior record. Her transition into event competition was supposed to take place after a significant amount of time adjusting to collegiate golf.
However, two challenging competitions at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview and Windy City Collegiate Classic contributed to Zhou to finding herself competing in The Landfall Tradition event. She seized her opportunity, leading the Cats by scoring a 223 (+7) finishing tied for 13th place.
Since then, Zhou has competed in five additional events for the Wildcats and now has the second-lowest scoring average (73.94) behind sophomore Lindsey Weaver (72.29). Zhou posted a 69 at the Pac-12 Preview, the PING/ASU Invitational and the SunTrust Gator Invitational. She the team at two other events, the Pac-12 Preview (217) and the Ping/ASU Tournament (214), where she carded top-10 scores, both of which were a season best two-under par.
Zhou attributes a large part of her success to the motivation her teammates provide and the learning experiences that come with playing her first college tournaments.
"I feel like that as I play more collegiate golf, the more my confidence boosts, especially during qualifiers because we know that we need to qualify to travel," Zhou said. "You know we are playing for the team, and out there the coaches are always with you, supporting you.
Zhou played junior golf in Australia before coming to the U of A.
"When you play junior golf, you are just out there by yourself," Zhou said. "Playing for a college team allows coaches and teammates to cheer for you, and I think that is a big component in boosting my confidence. We are always playing for each other."
Zhou has also benefited from her teammates in other ways than just moral support, and she has been given the opportunity to learn from other collegiate student-athletes.
"I feel like as we get along more, we get to know each other’s game a little bit better," Zhou said. "I always like to learn from others. They don’t necessarily come up to me and give me advice, but I kind of look around to see who has different strengths and learn from them."
Zhou’s attention to detail and ability to listen has played a big part in her unexpected success.
"She’s really proven herself from day one," head coach Laura Ianello said. "She started this fall as a freshman. Her junior record wasn’t that impressive and we were hopeful that she would join the team and need some work before being ready to compete. She exceeded our expectations.”
Not only has Zhou been supportive of the team with the scores she provides, but she also contributes a lot to the team atmosphere.
"She brings a positive attitude to the team," Ianello said. "She is extremely cheerful and happy, and always has a smile on her face. It is very rare to ever hear something negative come out of her mouth."
Zhou doesn't let her mistakes shake her up mentally. Ianello sees the way that Zhou shakes off her errors, and it goes a long way with the coaching staff.
"She will bogey a hole, and then smile at you as she says, ‘I got this,’" Ianello said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if she has the best attitude of any kid I’ve coached at Arizona so far.”
Zhou is constantly looking for ways to improve her game. This season, she set a goal to focus on improving her short game.
"My short game, especially chipping, is one area I have improved most," Zhou said. "Recently, Coach (Derek) Radley established a short game test. When I first started, I only scored an 88. The last time I did it, I got 132, which is within the LPGA range. I think there are a lot of areas in which I need to improve, but getting better at short game is really helpful."
Although her quick adjustment to collegiate golf has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise, Zhou still has a long way to go before fulfilling both her team and personal goals.
"Winning a national championship is definitely a goal of mine," Zhou said. "I also want to be ranked top-30 in the country and be named All-American. I think just going out there and giving my best is always the main component."
Ianello has observed Zhou's intense work ethic and has confidence in her.
"Just wait," Ianello said. "Wanasa will be an All-American. She sets her goals very high for herself, and wants to do the best she can at everything. She has the desire to be a 4.0 student mixed with the desire to play her sport professionally. It is rare to see someone who loves the game as much as Wanasa does. She lives, breathes and eats golf.”
Because of Zhou’s energy and dedication, the golf team has seen great success this season. With all of the progress and success she has had this freshman year, Zhou certainly appears to provide a bright future for the Wildcats.The Arizona women’s golf team will be competing in the NCAA Central Regional Championships, hosted by Oklahoma State, Thurs.-Sat., May 8-10. They will be competing against 23 other teams at the Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. If the Cats finish top eight, they will advance to the NCAA Championships, May 20-23, in Tulsa Okla.