Saturday 24 February 2018

Andy Zhang, 14, replaces Paul Casey to make history at the US Open

ANDY Zhang - a 14-year-old schoolboy from Florida - will be thrown into golf's toughest test this week when he tees it up at the US Open.

Paul Casey has been forced to withdraw from the US Open through injury, with teenager Zhang taking his place in San Francisco.

Having hoped he was over the shoulder dislocation he suffered snowboarding on Christmas Eve, England's former world number three is not yet fit for the rigours of a major. That led to a call for China-born, Florida-based prodigy Zhang - the youngest player in the tournament since the second world war - who narrowly missed out on qualifying in a play-off.

Chang was joined in the main draw by fellow amateur Jordan Spieth, a member of last year's American Walker Cup side in Aberdeen. The Texan takes the place of compatriot Brandt Snedeker, out because of a rib injury.

"When I got the call] my mind just went blank," said Zhang. "Then, I said "Wait! What? I am in the US Open?" Who is Andy Zhang?

He is due to play a practice round with Masters champion Bubba Watson today, prompting his caddie Christopher Gold to say: "You can play with whomever you want. Why not Bubba?"

Zhang will tee-off in Thursday's first round alongside Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita, 42, and 37-year-old Mark Wilson of the United States.

Casey missed the first two months of the season, but after four missed cuts in a row on his return - including The Masters at Augusta - things were looking up when he finished 25th in Korea in late April. But the 34-year-old then had to withdraw after nine holes of the Players Championship in Florida, pulled out of the Volvo World Match Play in Spain and shot rounds of 78 and 76 to miss yet another cut in the BMW PGA Championship three weeks ago.

That remains his last competitive action.

"I so want to play and it's so frustrating," Casey said at Wentworth. "I've got to get my brain to trust that I can't hurt it any more. It's amazing how the brain controls the body almost involuntarily."

He is down to 58th in the world rankings and likely to fall even further this week, while the odds on him returning to the Ryder Cup team - he was not picked by Colin Montgomerie two years ago despite being world number nine at the time - are getting longer all the time.

Captain Jose Maria Olazabal said after hearing that the 11-time European Tour winner had pulled out of the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago: "I feel really sorry for him. We all know how good he can play.

"All I am hoping is that he gets healthy again and shows form. I wish him the very best."

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