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Andy Zhang In U.S. Open: 14-Year-Old Replaces Paul Casey, Will Become Youngest To Play U.S. Open

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A flag on the first hole blows in the breeze during a practice round prior to the start of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 11, 2012 in Daly City, California.
A flag on the first hole blows in the breeze during a practice round prior to the start of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 11, 2012 in Daly City, California.

By Nick Masuda, Golfweek

SAN FRANCISCO -- Locker No. 483.

That will be the home of Andy Zhang's gear this week at Olympic Club.

"The whole thing?" Zhang asked an official in the players locker room. "This whole locker is mine?"

He then looked around and saw the names of Tim Clark, K.J. Choi, Alex Cejka and major winner Stewart Cink etched on the lockers next to him.

Forgive the 14-year-old for being a bit wide-eyed, but he was in a state of shock - he just became the youngest player in the history of the U.S. Open.

"(When I got the call), my mind just went blank," said Zhang, who will replace Paul Casey in the 151-player field after Casey withdrew due to injury. "Then, I said "Wait! What? I am in the U.S. Open?"

"I almost teared up," said caddie Christopher Gold, who has worked with Zhang since January.

Zhang was the second alternate coming into the week, sitting behind University of Texas star Jordan Spieth. But, in the span of an hour, Spieth would get a spot after Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a rib injury, giving Zhang hope that he would land a spot.

Now, he'll be teeing it up at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning with Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley.

"Why not? You can play with whomever you want. Why not Bubba?" said Gold.

"Bubba is the Masters champ, I can't think of anyone better to play with," added Zhang.

Zhang plays out of Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, Fla., and has lived in the United States since he turned 10, picking up a pair of junior-golf wins over the past four years.

"There is zero pressure on him," said Gold. "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 spent the bulk of his childhood in Beijing, picking up clubs for the first time at the age of 6 and beginning to work with coach Mr. An - a Korean - at the age of 7. His mother, Hui Li, recognized his talent and brought him to the U.S. to participate in a handful of tournaments when he was 10, and they haven't looked back since.

"My mom quit her job when I was eight and just was there to support me ever since," said Zhang, who has been coached by Andrew Park since he arrived in the U.S. "I wouldn't be here without her."

While mom is by Andy's side in San Francisco, Zhang's father returned to China only two days ago, lamenting to his son, "Go to San Francisco, but you probably won't get in."

"He'll be following me on TV, I guess," said Zhang, again distracted by a spread of Snickers bars and sandwiches.

"I can take one of these? Really?"

For Zhang, it was like being a kid in a candy store.

 
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