U.S. Open: Zhang, 14, replaces injured Casey
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO - Locker No. 483.
That will be the home of Andy Zhang's gear this week at Olympic Club.
"The whole thing?" Zhang asked an official in the players' locker room. "This whole locker is mine?"
He looked around and saw the names of Tim Clark, K.J. Choi, Alex Cejka and major winner Stewart Cink etched onto the lockers next to his.
Forgive the 14-year-old for being a bit wide-eyed, but he had just become the youngest golfer in the history of the U.S. Open.
"(When I got the call), my mind just went blank," said Zhang, who will replace Paul Casey in the 151-player field after the Englishman withdrew because of an injury. "Then, I said "Wait! What? I am in the U.S. Open?"
"I almost teared up," said caddie Christopher Gold, who has worked with Zhang since January.
Zhang was the second alternate coming into the week, behind Texas star Jordan Spieth. But, in the span of an hour, Spieth would get a spot after Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a rib injury, giving Zhang hope that he would land a spot.
Now, he'll be teeing it up at 7 a.m. Tuesday with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley.
"Why not?" Gold said. "You can play with whomever you want. Why not Bubba?"
"Bubba is the Masters champ," Zhang said. "I can't think of anyone better to play with."
Zhang plays out of Reunion Resort in Davenport, Fla., and has lived in the United States since age 10, picking up two junior-golf victories in the past four years.
"There is zero pressure on him," Gold said. "This kid is the best player I have ever seen at 14. He hits shots that pros can't hit. And, with little pressure this week, I think he could do very well."
Zhang spent the bulk of his childhood in Beijing, picking up clubs for the first time at age 6 and beginning to work with coach Mr. An - a Korean - at 7. Zhang's mother, Hui Li, recognized his talent and brought him to the U.S. to participate in a handful of tournaments when he was 10, and they haven't looked back.
"My mom quit her job when I was 8 and just was there to support me ever since," said Zhang, who has been coached by Andrew Park since arriving in the U.S. "I wouldn't be here without her."
While mom is by Andy's side in San Francisco, Zhang's father returned to China only two days ago, lamenting to his son, "Go to San Francisco, but you probably won't get in."
"He'll be following me on TV, I guess," said Zhang, again distracted by a spread of Snickers bars and sandwiches.
"I can take one of these? Really?"
For Zhang, it was like being a kid in a candy store.