Zhang fires 63 to win AJGA's Thunderbird International
Just two short years ago, Andy Zhang was in the middle of a media blitz.
The 14-year-old from China had become the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open, not to mention the first player from China to participate in the national championship. Interviews with Rick Reilly of ESPN and reporters following him in the fairways during his first practice round ensued.
He handled the questions and attention with ease, and even played solidly, holding his own against the best in the world.
But the week at Olympic Club in San Francisco gave him a false sense of where his game was compared to fellow junior stars.
"I had such a bad year after the U.S. Open. I was thinking I was such a great player," said Zhang. "The U.S. Open was a really lucky thing to do. But I had to realize I was equal to everybody else (in junior golf). A lot of people can beat me."
On Monday at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., no one could beat the now 16-year-old.
Zhang had two eagles, seven birdies and two bogeys to card a 9-under 63 to win the AJGA's Thunderbird International Junior, clearing Zachary Bauchou by four shots in what is Zhang's biggest victory of his young career.
After firing a 7-under 29 on the front nine and then getting it to 10 under through 12 holes behind an eagle at No. 11 and birdie at No. 12, Zhang admitted that shooting a 59 crept into his mind.
"I was trying so hard to get that 59," said Zhang, who had five eagles on the week. "After I got that birdie at No. 12, I told myself I had a shot at this."
But a bogey on No. 14 and another on No. 17 derailed that thought, although Zhang ended his tournament with a birdie on No. 18 to shoot the lowest round of his junior career.
"I did a good job of focusing more (on the back nine). I just tried not to screw up," said Zhang, who started the week No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings. "I played smarter. The two bogeys were big, I didn't post big numbers. Bauchou made it very stressful for me over the last couple holes. Ridiculously hard."
Zhang has been on a tear in 2014, finishing runner-up at both the AJGA CB&I Boys Championship and Florida Junior Tour at Timacuan, while also flirting with the lead and ultimately settling for T-24 at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
His performance at Sage Valley taught him a lot about staying steady down the stretch.
"I believe in my game more," said Zhang, who will next play at the Sunnehanna Amateur. "(Sage Valley) made my mental game stronger. It made me want to come back (and win this week)."
Zachary Bauchou fired a 5-under 67 in the final round to finish second, while Burns could only muster an even-par 72 to finish third.