An exuberant Andy Zhang, believed to be the youngest player in U.S. Open history, was the toast of The Olympic Club before this week’s event kicked off on Thursday. Even after opening with a 9-over 79, golf enthusiasts gushed about his recovery from an 8-over 42 on the course’s first nine holes, and with good reason. The kid’s 14!
Alas, Zhang, who celebrated his first par on Thursday (after launching a drive some 280 yards and hitting his first green in regulation on the 489-yard, par-4 sixth with a 6-iron) with a choreographed fist bump with his caddie, joined defending champ Rory McIlroy, world No. 1 Luke Donald, Masters champ Bubba Watson, and a cadre of other top players who won’t be around for the weekend. But Beau Hossler, just three years Zhang’s senior and the author of a scorecard boasting a 3-over 143 after two days of "golf’s toughest test" will be.
"I felt I was getting into a little bit of a zone," Hossler told reporters after a round during which he briefly held the lead over Tiger Woods and the rest of the star-studded field. "Unfortunately I kind of lost it coming in. I was able to salvage one on seven with that chip-in, but it was pretty solid overall. Just really glad to get it to 2‑under through 10 holes."
Sounding a lot like a seasoned pro, Hossler said he tried not to get ahead of himself during his short interlude at the top of the leaderboard after a birdie on No. 1, his second in three holes. He played his next holes in 5-over to fall out of a tie with Woods and Jim Furyk, but the youngster was philosophical about it all.
"I was pretty excited about it, but then again I had another 40 holes at least to be playing in the tournament," said the junior from California’s Rancho Santa Margarita High. "You got a long way to go and you can't get too wrapped up on where you're at. You got to keep focused and try to go out there and salvage some pars on the first six holes, which is pretty difficult to do."
While the odds are hugely stacked against Hossler becoming the next Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet, Johnny Goodman, Jack Nicklaus -- all amateurs who topped the best professional players in the world to become Open champs -- another goal remained in reach for the future Texas Longhorn.
"When I came in, I knew low amateur would be a great honor," said Hossler, who lost his state high school championship by one stroke earlier this month. "Obviously, after the first round it looked like it was a little bit more of a possibility, but, yeah, that's definitely my goal moving forward."
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, the other amateurs to make the cut, entered the weekend tied for 59th.
For Zhang, playing side-by-side with the best in the game was the dream of his early lifetime and one he said he would always remember.
"It has been one of the most exciting unforgettable and unbelievable experiences," the 6'0, 185 pounder who moved from China to Florida four years ago told reporters following a second-round 77. "Everything I did, I never had done it before and it's just a great experience."
He talked about how, like Hossler, who made his Open debut last year at the age of 16, he would use his time among the big boys to build his golf resume. But he is 14, after all, so while "standing right next to Bubba Watson" was a highlight of Zhang’s week, so were the off-course amenities.
"The free food is really good too. And great candy bars in the locker room," Zhang declared. "Your shoes are free and they do your laundry and everything."
Hossler, who finished Friday tied for ninth, echoed his fellow teen’s awe of the comforts afforded golf’s elite.
"I find this kind of weird," he said, "but the free dry cleaning in there, that's pretty sweet."
Welcome to the big leagues, guys.
Hossler will tee off in his first third round of a U.S. Open -- he missed the cut in his Open debut last year at Congressional Country Club -- at 5:05 p.m. ET.
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