US Open: 14-year-old Andy Zhang is Young Tom’s closest rival yet
IT’S a record that has stood for almost 150 years but, as the new generation of golfers get younger and younger, it may not last much longer.
Young Tom Morris, who played in the Open Championship in 1865 at the age of 14 years and four months, is still the youngest player in major history – but only just.
Tomorrow, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Andy Zhang, at 14 years and six months, will become the youngest participant in the history of the US Open, claiming the record from Tadd Fujikawa, who was 15 when he played at Winged Foot in 2006.
Beijing-born Zhang, now based in Florida, got a place in the season’s second major when England’s Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury. After losing in a play-off in one of the qualifiers, Zhang was originally fifth reserve but moved up when South African Branden Grace and American Spencer Levin earned places in the field through the latest world rankings.
He then beame first alternate when Brandt Snedeker pulled out with a rib injury and, after Casey also withdrew late on Monday night, the door was opened for Zhang to earn his place in the record books.
“[When I got the call], my mind just went blank,” Zhang told FOX Sports, adding, “Then, I said “Wait! What? I am in the US Open?”
Zhang, who took up golf at the age of six, has lived in America since he was 10. He attends the IMG Golf Academy at Bradenton in Florida, where Scotland’s Carly Booth spent some time when she was still an amateur.
His mother, Hui Li, is with him in San Francisco, but his father returned to China at the weekend thinking his son would probably remain a reserve for this week’s event.
“My mom quit her job when I was eight and just was there to support me ever since,” added Zhang. “I wouldn’t be here without her.”
According to the man who will be caddying for him tomorrow, Zhang won’t necessarily be teeing it up alongside the world’s best players feeling he is there to make up the numbers. “There is zero pressure on him,” said Christopher Gold, who has worked with Zhang since January. “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 certainly doesn’t lack confidence. Within minutes of getting into the field, he put his name down for a practice round with Masters champion Bubba Watson and Australian Aaron Baddeley.
“Bubba is the Masters champ, I can’t think of anyone better to play with,” he added. When the real action starts, he will have American Mark Wilson and Japan’s Hiroyuki Fujita as his partners in the first two rounds, teeing off tomorrow at 8.21am local time in the group after US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and former major winners Padraig Harrington and David Toms.
Snedeker’s place in the tournament went to another amateur, Jordan Speith, who played in the American team that lost the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen last year.
It means the field will contain a total of eight amateurs, the others being Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Alberto Sanchez, Cameron Wilson, Beau Hossler and Nick Sherwood.
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