Zhang, 14, battles nerves at US Open
In golf, there is nothing glamorous about a triple-double.
Not when we are talking bogeys, at least.
Andy Zhang — the 14-year-old who has captivated the golf world with his historic berth into the US Open — might want to save those triple-doubles for his favorite athlete, LeBron James.
"On the first tee, I was like, 'Just please don't hit a 100-yard slice,' and I was shaking really hard," Zhang said after his round Thursday at Olympic Club.
The nerves wouldn't disappear until the sixth tee — when he was already eight over and hat yet even par.
"I told him, 'You've got nothing to lose anymore. We're eight over,’” caddie Christopher Gold said.
It seemed to work, as Zhang played the next 10 holes at even par and carded a nine-over 79. He broke 80 with a birdie from off the green at the par-4 18th, which set off a thunderous applause.
"Great round, Andy!” the fans cheered. “Great round!"
Not exactly what you thought you'd hear for a guy who currently sits in 140th place, and indeed have three holes of double-bogey or worse in his round.
"(Today's round) will definitely help a lot," Zhang said about his development. "It's something that I can never learn playing junior tournaments. The junior tournaments, I start bad with maybe a triple or double, and then I can work my way in like probably finish around 1 over or even."
The opening triple featured a drive into a bad lie in the left rough, a second shot that disappeared into bushes after hooding it, a fourth shot that came up short of the green, a pitch that he had to hit under a low-hanging tree limb and then two putts from just off the green.
As with most teenagers, it was easy to read Zhang's body language. He was a bit rattled.
"He is never like this, he is never nervous,” Gold said. “He plays in tournaments and never has these nerves.”
After a sloppy double-bogey at No. 2, Zhang started to show signs of life. He saved bogey from a greenside bunker at the par-3 third; he was the only player in his group to hit the fairway on No. 4 (he missed a 5-footer for par); and showed maturity by simply laying up after finding the rough at the par-4 fifth.
He walked off the fifth green and chatted with one of his fellow playing competitors, PGA Tour veteran Mark Wilson.
"I asked what high school he was going to go to, where he is from, what tournaments he was going to play in this summer," Wilson said. "I told him I had been to Shanghai last year. Just normal stuff."
It seemed to calm Zhang, who hammered a drive right down the fairway — his first fairway hit of the day — and then found the middle of the green (also his first green in regulation).
"I finally made great contact with my driver and it felt great," said Zhang. "Then I kind of kept playing golf a little bit."
He'd mix in two birdies (Nos. 7 and 18), a double bogey (No. 16), two bogeys and eight pars the rest of the way.
"He played some great golf (after the first five holes)," said Wilson, who shot a six-over 76. "(When I was 14) I was playing mostly junior level and state stuff, a couple of national events. But all 14 and under, not against pro golfers. He looks and plays much older than 14."
Gold was proud of the way his "buddy" responded to his less-than-ideal start.
"I told him (after the fifth hole) that if we just broke 80, I'd be proud of him," said Gold. "Shooting in the 70s just sounds better."
Zhang was pretty excited about saving 79 too, and had a message for his Miami Heat and LeBron James, who played in Game 2 of the NBA Finals later Thursday.
"They have to win," said Zhang. "I shot 79, so (LeBron) has to, himself, score 79 points."
Or maybe he'd settle for a triple-double.