14-year-old makes US Open
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 then looked around and saw the names of Tim Clark, K.J. Choi, Alex Cejka and major winner Stewart Cink etched on the lockers next to him.
Forgive the 14-year-old for being a bit wide-eyed, but he was in a state of shock — he just became what officials believe is the youngest player to qualify for the US Open in the tournament’s history.
"(When I got the call), my mind just went blank," said Zhang, who will replace Paul Casey in the 156-player field after Casey withdrew due to injury. "Then, I said "Wait! What? I am in the US 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, sitting behind University of Texas star Jordan Spieth. But Spieth got in after Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a rib injury, giving Zhang hope that he would land a spot. An hour later, hope became reality.
Suddenly, he was set to tee off on for a practice round with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley.
"Why not? You can play with whomever you want. Why not Bubba?" Gold said.
"Bubba is the Masters champ, I can’t think of anyone better to play with," added Zhang.
Zhang attends IMG Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton , Fla., and has lived in the United States since his family moved from China when he was 10, picking up junior wins in St. Augustine, Fla., in February and in Orlando in November.
"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 the age of 6 and beginning to work with a coach at the age of 7. His mother, Hui Li, recognized his talent and brought him to the US to participate in a handful of tournaments when he was 10, and they haven’t looked back since.
"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 he arrived in the US. "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.