Four years ago a good friend introduced me to a history-maker.
We were on the practice range at Reunion Resort, outside Orlando and there was the youngest-ever to play in a U.S. Open.
His name was Andy Zhang and he was two years past that 2012 start at the Olympic Club.
His swing looked incredible, his ball-striking ability would get your attention with just a glance. The kid was just 16 and he looked to have all the tools. Most of all, he was a really nice, polite, engaging youngster. Pretty humble, not full of himself.
He had some time off from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, a sports factory and golf was his chosen path. It wasn’t an easy path for Andy.
He was born in Beijing where his father introduced him to the game early in Andy’s life. The family made a really tough decision when Andy was age 10. His mother brought him to the states to pursue the dream of playing professional golf. They left Andy’s father and sister behind in Beijing. They came to this county, to a new school. His mother spoke every little English and Andy didn’t know a single word.
Six months later he could speak and understand enough to get by and after a year passed, he was fluent. If you met him, you’d think English is his primary language.
Of course Zhang attracted attention from the top golf schools. His choices narrowed to Florida and Oklahoma State. Florida won thanks to geographic convenience.
His plan was to be one-and-done but realized he needed a second year. After winning the individual SEC title last May, Andy knew it was time.
His name was a the top of the heap all this past week at the Web.com Q-School finals at the Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Arizona. He was tied for the lead going into Sunday’s finale.
Zhang had the lead after 12 holes but a double-bogey at 14 and a bogey at 16 derailed a nice round. He still finished with 71 and after rounds of 63-66-64, he finished tied for eighth at 24-under. That means he’ll be exempt through the first 12 events on the 2019 Web.com and that should be plenty for him, with his skill-set.
Danny Walker from the University of Virginia was the medalist his closing 63 got him to a spectacular 27-under. There were other big names up there — Norman Xiong, who some have compared to Tiger Woods and Doug Ghim, low amateur at last year’s Masters. Xiong is the reigning Haskins award winner.
One player who didn’t perform well was Brad Thornberry from Ole Miss. He was set to leave school if he made the top 40. He didn’t. He tied for 74th and he’ll have a decision to make — try and play with limited status or go back to school.
The pressure didn’t bother Zhang. “The more you play, the better you handle it, the more comfortable you are in the situation,” he said. “I like telling myself just to embrace the pressure. If you’re under pressure, it means you’re very close to something good. You want to play good. You’ve got to embrace it and do the best you can.”
These days he’s coached by Sean Foley and don’t be surprised if he has a nice year on the Web.com.
Don’t be surprised if he’s on the PGA Tour in 2020.
Nothing should surprise us about this young player. He’s that impressive.