Zhang showcases good form, attitude at Ping
It's been about a year and a half since Andy Zhang entered the spotlight at the Olympic Club, where at 14 years old, he became the youngest player to compete in a U.S. Open.
Zhang, who turns 16 on Dec. 14, admits he's felt some pressure from high expectations placed upon him after his U.S. Open appearance, and it showed with some struggles on the golf course in the months following his missed cut in San Francisco. But his results on the junior golf circuit recently have proven Zhang again among the best players his age.
"You feel like you're good, but you're really not as good as you think you are, and it took a while for me to realize that," said Zhang, who missed the cut in three other pro starts in 2012 (Kolon Korea Open, Omega European Masters, Australian Open), as well as shooting 74-77 at the 2012 U.S. Amateur. "I would say now that I have more realistic expectations for myself."
Not that his expectations have gotten much lower. He's now the fourth-ranked junior in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings after being ranked No. 125 in September 2012. This summer, he finished fifth at the Western Junior, made match play at the U.S. Junior before falling to fifth-ranked Jorge Garcia in the first round and contended at the Junior Players before a final-round 79 dropped him to T-16.
Zhang's latest result is, what he calls, his best performance since qualifying for the U.S. Open: a runner-up finish to Brad Dalke at the AJGA Ping Invitational.
"I was happy with how I played and how I handled situations on the course," Zhang said. "Probably had the best attitude through three rounds."
Attitude. That's the part of Zhang's game that has changed the most since the U.S. Open.
"I don't think that I'm that much better skill-wise, but I'm a much better person on the golf course," said Zhang, who said he used to get down on himself, or even sometimes "give up," after tough stretches in rounds.
A good example of how Zhang's mental game has improved?
He found himself four shots behind during the final round of the Ping after a triple bogey at the fifth hole. But he made just one bogey after that along with four birdies to finish just one shot out of first place.
"I felt like that was the perfect attitude (that I had after the triple bogey)," Zhang said. "I'd (use to) get so mad, give up and get on the bogey train."
Zhang declined a sponsor exemption into the Macau Open on the Asian Tour to play in the Ping. His next start will come at the Polo Golf Junior Classic in November, followed by the South Beach Amateur in December.
After his U.S. Open experience, Zhang described the time following as "straight downhill from there" and went on to describe the time since as a series of "ups and downs." But with his game – and attitude – in check, Zhang has experienced a lot more ups as of late, and is poised to continue that upward trend as he closes out 2013.