While all the big names in golf are gathered in San Francisco for the U.S. Open, it was a 14-year-old amateur who had the Olympic Club buzzing on Tuesday.
Andy Zhang, an amateur from Florida who was born in China, was added to the field late Monday when Paul Casey had to withdraw because of a shoulder injury. And there he was Tuesday morning, taking in a practice round with Masters champ Bubba Watson.
He’ll be the youngest player ever to play in the U.S. Open.
“Did you check his birth certificate?” joked San Mateo native Michael Allen, who in contrast will be the oldest player in the field at 53.
Watson was quick to praise Zhang, who was an alternate after firing rounds of 70-72 in his sectional qualifying in Lecanto, Fla., on June 4, after their short stint together.
“It was fun getting to meet him and watching a talent like that,” Watson said of the 6-foot, 180-pound teenager.
“He’s a big boy for 14, and he can hit it good.”
Too tough? While Watson came away impressed with Zhang, he seemed less impressed with the setup of two particular holes for the tournament: Nos. 13 and 14. “You could actually hit the ball on the green [at No. 13] and end up in the hazard,” Watson said. “I don’t understand why they did that.”
As for 14, the fairway has been shifted left, bringing trees into play on the par-4, 419-yard hole. “I had to slice a 9-iron about 40 yards just to hit the green,” Watson said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Easier greens: Several players said they expect the greens to play much easier this week than past events at the Olympic Club thanks to the switch of the greens from poa annua to bent grass. “Bent greens are a little easier,” said Luke Donald, the No. 1 ranked player in the world. “The greens are going to be fast, but they’re one of the best surfaces I’ve seen.”
Truly a monster: Watson gave an indication of exactly how long the 670-yard 16th hole will play this week.
Watson, the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, said he hit back-to-back perfect drivers during his practice round Tuesday, only to still wind up some 60 yards short of the green in the fairway for his third shot.