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14-Year-Old in U.S. Open


Fourteen-year-old Andy Zhang is not only the youngest entrant ever to play in the U.S. Open he's also the first native of China to play in America's national golf championship. He gained entry on Monday after Paul Casey withdrew because of injury.

Zhang came to San Diego in 2008 as a 10-year-old for the U.S. Kids World Championship. His mother, Hui Li, bought a round-trip ticket for their return to Beijing, but after the tournament, Andy entreated his mother for them to stay. He told his mom, "I want to stay here. I love the golf courses."

Zhang won that junior title in his age bracket and, after deciding to remain in the States, worked on his game. He's now attending Halstrom High School, an online educational program based in San Diego. He studies at night and practices golf during the day. He'll be a freshman in the fall.

The precocious teen will be assisted this week by caddie Christopher Gold, who he met on the range at Reunion Resort in Florida. Zhang will be paired in the first two rounds with Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita and veteran American pro Mark Wilson.

On Wednesday, Zhang sat down with reporters and talked about his road to the Olympic Club in San Francisco and what his expectations are in his first-ever major championship.

The youngster speaks halting English and needed help at times with a Mandarin translator. But he showed considerable aplomb - and disarming naiveté - during the interview. Here's an example: "I played a practice round with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley. And Bubba Watson, he said - you all know he's the Masters champion for this year. I thought I was going to be looking up to him.

"But actually he's just a normal person. He was really nice to me. And he showed me - he gave me a lot of good tips. They show me like on certain lies how to hit shots, especially Aaron and his caddie kind of helping me out every hole and giving me strategy on each tee ball and stuff."

Here's the rest of his conversation.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Andy Zhang to the Olympic Club at the 2012 U.S. Open in San Francisco. We're very pleased to have with us this afternoon Andy Zhang who is a 14 year old, originally from the People's Republic of China, he's 14 years old, the youngest player to ever compete, we believe, in the U.S. Open. And he was added to the field on Monday afternoon when Paul Casey withdrew due to injury. Can you talk about your journey from the U.S. Open field to the sectional qualifier, to receiving the news you were in the field.

ANDY ZHANG: Yeah, I began from the locals qualifying that was at Lake Wales, Florida, Lake Wales Country Club. I played two junior tournaments there and I know the course really well. I shot 69, tied for third, they're taking five spots, so I was right on the line. Then I choose the site Black Diamond in Lecanto, Florida, to play in the sectionals. It was a great course. They've got six holes in the quarry and fast greens. So I shot 70 and 72 for two rounds and tied for third. Since they're taking only three spots, so I had to play this playoff against Brooks, who is NCAA Player of the Year, and sadly I lost to him in the playoff. So I become the fifth alternate.

And then they give out four exemptions to - they give out one sponsor exemption for Spencer Levin and three more to the top three people on the list. So I jumped from fifth to second. So I flew out here Monday, landed around 12:30. And then Jeff Hall caught us at 5:20 while I was on the putting green. He said Paul Casey withdrew and if you want to play you're in. And I got really excited and I'm here.

MODERATOR: How has your time here been since you found you were in the field, in terms of the crowd's reaction, and speaking to a lot of the media and the fans.

ANDY ZHANG: It was a great experience. Obviously I'm really excited. And all the people are really nice to me and I love the fans from the first time. It was funny, like I was on the airplane, and then I was asking Chris, I was like, so I get to practice on the driving range and putt and chip in the U.S. Open facility. So is that okay if I go up to Tiger and those great players for autographs. And he goes, like, no, you are going to be the one who is giving out autographs. And I came here and everybody knows me for some reason. Yeah. I'm signing autographs, I guess (laughter).

Q. Seems that you're getting very well known here. Maybe more here than in China. Do you have any plans to play any events like the China Open or go back to China at all to try to join up with Team China?

ANDY ZHANG: No, I haven't planned that far yet. Everything is happening like really quick. And I guess people just starting to know me and I haven't had any plan to play any tournaments in China, not that I know of.

Q. What was your feeling like? I know you talked about it a little bit. Did you call your mom and dad? Did you talk to your friends? Does it seem like you're having an out of body experience being here. You're the big story today. To add to it I was hoping you could answer first in English and then in Mandarin, if possible?

ANDY ZHANG: First thing, my mom is here, actually. But my dad went back to China the day before I came here. It was on the 9th of June. We got a call from Jeff Hall and I got really excited. I didn't really care what other people were thinking. And I was giving my mom and Chris hugs and just really excited. I have to think how to answer this in Mandarin. Can you ask your question again, please.

Q. Just your reaction when you got the news. Did you call your mom and dad? Did you talk to any friends?

ANDY ZHANG: (Speaking in Mandarin)

Q. First of all, two questions, do you have a posse? Do you have an entourage? What are your goals, as well?

ANDY ZHANG: I don't have a group of people, just my mom and my Buddy, Chris, who is with me this time. And I don't have that high of expectation for this time. I just want to come out here, enjoy myself and learn as much as possible and, yeah, that's it, just have fun, I guess.

Q. Can you give us an idea if you weren't playing at the U.S. Open what a normal Thursday would involve for you?

ANDY ZHANG: Oh, if I'm not playing the U.S. Open? I would probably be in Florida right now watching the U.S. Open (laughter), thinking why I didn't get in. But I would be still practicing and just working hard for next year, if I'm not in it.

Q. Would you be at school?

ANDY ZHANG: Yeah, I'm in school, I used to go to Windermere Prep in Windermere, Florida. And now I'm going to this on line school in San Diego.

Q. What would Thursdays at school involve?

ANDY ZHANG: No, actually I don't have school on Thursday. Well, we are in summer break now. But school for me is like twice a week and on line.

Q. Did you say that you're a big fan of Tiger's and you got to meet him? Could you talk about that a little bit?

ANDY ZHANG: Yeah. It was yesterday morning about 6:05, I was on the range, hitting balls. My Buddy, Chris, he was like, "Hey, Andy look behind you, it's Tiger." I looked back, it was Tiger walking up. And I got really excited. And he actually came up to me and shook my hand. And I was like, "Wow, I just shook Tiger's hand."

Q. Did he say anything to you?

ANDY ZHANG: No, not really much. Just, "Hi, what's up?"

Q. Can you tell me what is the difference between playing golf here and playing golf in China?

ANDY ZHANG: Well, in China, golf hasn't developed as much as here yet in China. People are starting to like the sport and it's becoming really popular. But just the facility, the coaches are much better here. Because in China all the driving ranges, you've got to hit off mats. And here you get to hit off real grass.

Q. Are you aware of the magnitude of this, the historic perspective of this? What do you think about the fact that there has not been anyone your age to be where you are today?

ANDY ZHANG: I was really, like, I guess I was really excited for this, to be the first person I mean to be the first person that's a 14 year old to play in this event. Also I'm really honored to be here. But I'm trying to get used to all these media and fans coming up to me and sign autographs.

Q. Is it a distraction for you?

ANDY ZHANG: I'm trying not to take it as one, but maybe there is a little bit, yeah, I'm trying to get used to it.

Q. I think yesterday you played a practice round with Bubba. Can you tell me how that came about and what you might have learned from that and who you might have played with today.

ANDY ZHANG: I played a practice round with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley. And Bubba Watson, he said - you all know he's the Masters champion for this year. I thought I was going to be looking up to him. But actually he's just a normal person. He was really nice to me. And he showed me - he gave me a lot of good tips. They show me like on certain lies how to hit shots, especially Aaron and his caddie kind of helping me out every hole and giving me strategy on each tee ball and stuff.

MODERATOR: Outside of advice they may have given you on the golf course, did he have any general advice for you this week?

ANDY ZHANG: Yeah, he said just have fun and enjoy myself. Try not to get too tired and was just being nice.

Q. The on line school in San Diego, how did you get hooked up with that?

ANDY ZHANG: It is actually one of my friends named Corey, he goes to -he lives in San Diego and he goes to this school. And he was telling us how that gives him more time to practice. And my dad thinks it's a great opportunity.

Q. What's the school?

ANDY ZHANG: I'm sorry?

Q. What's the school called?

ANDY ZHANG: It's called Halstrom High School.

Q. And then my other question for you, you were talking about the facilities in China, the double deck driving ranges, things like that. How about the golf courses themselves, how much access did you have to top quality golf courses as you've been growing up?

ANDY ZHANG: I live in Beijing when I was in China. And it's like really a popular city and too many people in there. And you've got to drive like 25 minutes to the golf course. But the golf course is really good. It might not be as hard as the U.S. Open, The Olympic Club, but it's a really nice in really nice condition.

Q. It's a day to go to the U.S. Open, I'm curious how you deal with nerves or as a 14 year old, the youngest ever to play in the U.S. Open, do you have nerves?

ANDY ZHANG: I do. I definitely do. I am shaking a little right now sitting here. I heard Jack Nicklaus was sitting in this chair this morning. Was he? Yeah? So I'm trying to get used to this. I'm not doing quite well right now.

MODERATOR: You're doing very well.

Q. You have a plan to be a golf player, but is this being 14 year old being in the U.S. Open ahead of the plan or just right on the plan?

ANDY ZHANG: It is - I never thought I could get here this early. When I was playing the locals my dad was like, just do your best, if you don't get in, it's okay, nobody expects you to get in the U.S. Open now. And I got in the locals. I got to sectionals. And my dad was like, all right, just have fun out there, do the best you could. If you get in top 30, we're proud of you. And then I became tied for third. And he said, it's okay, buddy, you lost in the playoff. Just go fly off to San Francisco and enjoy the practice facility and meeting other great guys, learn from them. And you probably won't get in. And on Monday afternoon Jeff Hall called us and I got in. But this is a little in front of my plan, yeah.

MODERATOR: I think that's all the questions we have. Andy, thank you so much for joining us. It's a pleasure having you with us and we wish you well this week.

ANDY ZHANG: Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.

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