Zhang Yuyang’s right hand shot straight to her hip when her drive off the first tee snapped into the left rough. She mumbled in Chinese as instructor Tim Sheredy chimed in with, “That’s not right.” Apparently, Zhang wasn’t a fan of left either.
When Zhang, or Janice as she was called in Bradenton, arrived at the Academy she had a problem with taking the club too far inside on her backswing and leaving the clubface open at impact – often sending shots to the right. Sheredy, using more hand motions than words, worked on getting the amiable 15-year-old back on plane. Janice soaked in every word she could understand.
“I have no coach in China, and my swing was no good,” Janice said. Perhaps she’s a little hard on herself. For the past three years Janice has won her age division in the China Junior Championship, going as low as 65 in the second round in 2004.
Janice’s accomplishments, along with those of the other four girls in Sheredy’s group, are remarkable given that in China instruction is rudimentary, equipment is not always suited to the player and practice time is limited because of rigorous academic schedules.
The coach who introduced Janice to the game four years ago switched professions, and she hasn’t found a replacement. Janice tries to hit balls from 6 to 7 p.m. during the school week, but with homework on the weekends, 18-hole rounds are reserved for the summer.
As for the girls’ knock-off clubs, Sheredy says they were “pretty shocking.” Too long, too upright, too stiff, too heavy. The team’s trip to the Titleist fitting center in Carlsbad, Calif., however, fixed at least one of the hurdles these young girls face.
Sheredy concentrated on the basics – grip, posture, alignment – with each of the five girls and filled out “faults and fixes” papers for them to take back to China. Aside from the obvious language barrier, the six-year Bradenton veteran went about instructing the Chinese girls in the same manner he works with academy students Sydney Burlison and Isabelle Lendl, ranked 13th and 15th, respectively, in the Golfweek/Titleist Performance Index.
Sheredy was most impressed with the raw talent of Zhang Jian, a towering 14-year-old with an athletic build. Because her swing dipped well past parallel, Sheredy nicknamed her J.D., short for John Daly.
“We’ve got (her swing) looking like it’s under control,” Sheredy said. “She’s got a lot of speed for a 14-year-old girl, but she had no idea where it was going.”
Sheredy contends that if J.D. attended the academy full time, she’d “turn into one heck of a player.” He likens the zip in her swing to another one of his students, Ya-Ni Tseng.
The Taiwan native pounds it off the tee and is best known for knocking off Michelle Wie three years ago to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
J.D., playing in the group ahead of Janice in the afternoon scramble, sent one drive soaring off the second tee to the delight of her playing partners. Their collective response – “woah!” – translates universally.
Disciplined. Attentive. Enthusiastic. No matter the weather, no matter the challenge it was clear these girls were eager to learn. Janice returned to China with a solid backswing, a taller putting stance and the skills to execute a lob shot, not to mention a new lob wedge. She also left with Minnie Mouse earrings, an Olive Oyl headcover and a better command of her favorite subject back home – English.
“In China, many girls don’t like sports,” said Janice, whose mother is a table tennis coach. “They’d rather study, shop or watch films.”
Like most Chinese girls her age who play golf, Janice’s list of professional role models begins and ends with Tiger and Annika.
Thanks to this trip, Janice no longer feels a world apart from her heroes.