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Sat Apr 19 21:36:54 SAST 2014

Chinese prodigy sign of things to come, says Tiger

Sapa-AFP | 13 June, 2012 09:100 Comments
U.S. Open - Preview Day 2
Andy Zhang of China hits a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 12, 2012 in Daly City, California
Image by: Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

The march of technology and the global growth of golf will mean that 14-year-olds, like China prodigy Andy Zhang, may become commonplace in the next few years according to Tiger Woods.

The Beijing-born, but Florida-based Zhang has made history at this year’s US Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club even before the tournament even gets underway.

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

At 14 years and six months when he tees of in Thursday’s opening round, Zhang will be what US Golf Association officials believe is the youngest player in US Open history and certainly the youngest since World War II.

Tadd Fujikawa, who was 15 at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, is the previous youngest player of the modern era.

Asked for his reaction to such a young player competing in the US Open, Tiger Woods said that technological advances were playing a key role.

“These kids are now bringing out iPads to the range and watching their swing and breaking it down on the V1 (video analysis software). That’s totally different,” he said.

“Like (Ben) Hogan said, if he had a video camera the changes would happen so much faster. These kids are now being introduced when they first start.

“I saw a few of these kids over in Korea that they’ve only been playing the game for a year.

“And six months of it was all indoors hitting golf balls. All they did was put the club in the correct position to hit balls, hit balls, hit balls, and that’s it. They come out and they have perfect golf swings.

“That’s the new generation. The swings are all going to look very similar, and all these kids are going to have power.”  Zhang has lived in the United States since he was 10, having taken up golf at six, and he attends the IMG Golf Academy in Florida  On hearing of his lucky break in getting into the tournament, Zhang wasted no time in getting to grips with the tough layout at The Olympic Club.

He played his first practice round on Tuesday morning with Bubba Watson, and the Masters champion said he had been impressed by the youngster’s game.

“It was fun talking to him. It was fun getting to know him. He was nervous, didn’t talk much. Maybe I just talk too much. But it was cool,” Watson said.

“Hearing the story, talking to his caddie and him about how they got in and what all happened for them to get in.

“It was fun getting to meet him and watching a talent like that.

“He’s a big boy for 14, and he can hit it good. Obviously at 14 he’s got a lot of growing up to do with his game. Obviously he can play.

“He’s in the US Open. It’s not like it just luckily happened. He played to get in here.”  Zhang will have some family support in San Francisco as his mother is with him. His father, however, returned to China at the weekend thinking his son would probably remain a reserve.

He was fifth on the original list, but moved up when three players were called in after the publication of the world’s top 60 earlier this week and then became first alternate when Brandt Snedeker pulled out with a rib problem.

Englishman Paul Casey’s injury withdrawal on Monday finally opened the door for him to make his majors debut and US Open history.

Asked what advice he could hand out to Zhang, Rory McIlroy, a teenage prodigy himself when he turned pro at 18, found it hard to reply.

“When I was 14 I was getting prepared to play in my club championship, not the US Open, so I’m not sure I could give him any words of wisdom,” he said.

“Just got to go out there and enjoy it. It’s an unbelievable experience for someone so young.” 

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