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Teen phenom Zhang tries to enjoy spotlight

 
Comments(0) 6/14/12
The big sigh said it all -- 14-year-old Andy Zhang had just negotiated another nerve-wracking US Open moment with a formal pre-tournament press conference.

"I am shaking a little right now just sitting here," the Beijing-born Zhang confided from behind the big desk on a platform in the interview room.

"I heard Jack Nicklaus was sitting in this chair this morning... So I'm trying to get used to this."

Having narrowly failed to qualify for the year's second major, Zhang suddenly found himself propelled into the tournament on Monday due to last minute entry adjustments and injury withdrawals.

He'll be 14 1/2 years old when he tees off on Thursday and thought to be the youngest ever to play in the US Open.

The US Golf Association's records on contestants don't go back for all 111 prior Opens, so officials confirm he's the youngest "Since World War II" surpassing the previous mark of Tadd Fujikawa, who was 15 years old when he played at Winged Foot in 2006.

"I never thought I could get here this early," said Zhang, whose father told him just to try hard and enjoy himself in local qualifying.

When he advanced to sectionals, he got the same advice, and when he lost a playoff for an Open berth but made the alternates' list, his father told him to make the most of his access to the Open practice facilities at The Olympic Club.

Travelling to San Francisco, Zhang wondered if it would be OK to ask stars such as Tiger Woods for an autograph.

"And I came here and everybody knows me for some reason. Yeah, I'm signing autographs!"

At six feet tall, and 170 pounds, Zhang looks the part walking Olympic's daunting Lake Course, but up-close his fresh face and braces signal he's no veteran.

He has lived in the United States since he was 10, and had to pause a moment before coming up with an answer to one question in Mandarin.

Zhang played a practice round with Masters champion Bubba Watson and Aussie Aaron Baddeley on Tuesday.

He did get his meeting with Woods, early Tuesday morning at the driving range.

"I looked back and it was Tiger walking up," Zhang said. "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.'"

And if he hadn't made it into the US Open field, what would he be doing come Thursday.

"Oh, if I'm not playing the US Open? I would probably be in Florida right now watching the US Open. But I would be still practicing and just working hard for next year."

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