My Year in Golf: Nick Masuda
Monday, December 31, 2012
2012 U.S. Open: Andy Zhang's first practice round
Check out images from 14-year-old Andy Zhang's first practice round at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Editor's note: For our entire "My Year in Golf" series, click here.
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I looked around to see who was trying to get my attention.
It was David Shefter, newsman extraordinaire for the USGA.
"Hey, (Brandt) Snedeker just withdrew (from the U.S. Open). Jordan Spieth is in."
We all had kind of expected Spieth to join the party coming into the week.
I smiled, and being the inquisitive dude that I am, asked, "Who's next?"
"Your kid, Andy Zhang."
Yep, he had become "my kid" - from both the USGA and the six other Golfweek staffers in the seventh row of the media room at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Days earlier, Zhang played the part of a wide-eyed 14-year-old who had narrowly missed out automatically qualifying for America's championship, losing to Florida State All-American Brooks Koepka in a one-hole playoff at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla.
"I was a bit nervous (on the tee at the 18th)," said Zhang, a native of China. "So much was on the line for me. I had birdied the 18th before, but I just went right with my tee shot, and that made it difficult."
He didn't have many more words that day. But he didn't walk off the 18th green in tears. He did it with a grace that many 14-year-olds simply never show.
Heading into U.S. Open week, I had batted around the idea of a 14-year-old somehow making his way into the tournament. Needless to say, I was the joke of the office for a few days.
Shefter again, less than an hour later.
"Paul Casey just withdrew. Zhang's in."
Turns out, the joke was on my officemates.
I quickly scanned the media room to see if anyone was jumping out of their chairs. Nope. The competitive journalist in me was excited.
Zhang was going to be the story of the year.
Notepad in hand, I started jogging to the player's clubhouse (about a half-mile jaunt). Word was that Zhang was already on the grounds, having flown to California in hopes of his second-alternate status putting him in the tournament.
I noticed a couple of clubhouse officials and asked them if they had seen the 14-year-old. Let's just say, I got plenty of blank stares.
I sprinted to the back of the clubhouse where, out of breath and a bit frazzled, I saw Zhang's young caddie, Christopher Gold. I quickly made my way down what seemed like three flights of stairs and was greeted by a big smile.
It was Zhang. He reached out his hand and said, "You're that guy from Golfweek, right?"
No other reporters. No one but a clubhouse official who was quickly prepping Zhang to enter the players' locker room for the first time.
"Can I join you guys?" I asked Gold and Zhang.
"Sure, come on!"
Zhang had those wide eyes again, but this time he was smiling from ear-to-ear. As soon as he made the right turn to enter the locker room, there was a stash of Snickers bars, crackers, drinks - a normal spread for an everyday pro, but something to behold for a 14-year-old who had just become the first Chinese player to make it into the U.S. Open.
We continued to follow the clubhouse official to Zhang's locker. I'll never forget the number: 483. Right next to K.J. Choi, Tim Clark and Stewart Cink.
"This locker is all mine?" asked Zhang.
Of course it was.
It was refreshing to see an old event through young eyes. It was about more than golf in that moment. It was about a dream coming true.
In the 30 minutes that I first got the news tip to Zhang settling into the locker room, my dream also came true.
In this business, you live to tell the untold story - not to mention breaking news to the entire world (it was one of the top stories for Golfweek.com, FoxSports.com and USOpen.com that Tuesday).
On that brisk Monday evening in San Francisco, I have a 14-year-old to thank for showing that you should never stop dreaming.
Now, whose dream will we chase in 2013?