Again, an event for the ages
SAN FRANCISCO - The youngest and oldest players in any US Open always make for interesting stories, and this year’s duo - 14-year-old Andy Zhang and 53-year-old Michael Allen - certainly delivers, with some historical and personal significance thrown in for good measure.
Allen attended the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club when he was 7, and has been a member of the club since he was 14; his family lived not far from here, in San Mateo. Now a member of the Champions Tour (he has won twice this year), he tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the 1987 and 1998 US Opens at Olympic but got through this year.
It’s safe to say that none of the other 155 players in the field have logged more rounds on Olympic’s Lake Course than Allen, who estimates that he has played it 2,000 times. The next one, though, will be the sweetest.
“It’s probably going to be the first time I’m going to be extremely nervous teeing off. It’s just going to be fulfilling, for me, a lifelong dream,’’ said Allen, who has made five previous starts in the US Open, tying for 12th in 2001. “I always loved playing in this championship, but to play here is what makes this so extremely special for me. It’s going to be one of the greatest moments of my life playing golf.’’
Zhang feels the same way. At 14, he will become the youngest player ever to compete in a men’s US Open, getting in Monday evening after Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury. Born in China, Zhang now attends school in the US.
“I never thought I could get here this early. This is a little in front of my plan,’’ said Zhang, who has had to adjust this week to signing autographs instead of asking for them. He met Tiger Woods on the practice range, and played a practice round with Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Zhang got through local qualifying with a 69, then shot 70-72 in sectional qualifying. Those numbers are impressive, but not as much as his age.
“It’s not too young if you can do it,’’ Woods said. “I tried it when I was 15, but he earned a spot. He went out there and went through both stages, and did it.
“That’s the great thing about this game: It’s not handed to you. You have to go out and put up the numbers, and he did.’’
Good as Golden
Nobody has won more US Opens than the four captured by Jack Nicklaus, although Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, and Willie Anderson also won four. But it was Nicklaus, with a record 18 major championships, who was honored by the US Golf Association Wednesday for his career in the game as a player, course designer, and ambassador.
The gold medal given to the winner of the US Open - which dates to the first, in 1895 - has been renamed in Nicklaus’s honor and will feature his likeness on the back. Plans were also announced for a new Jack Nicklaus Room at the USGA museum in Far Hills, N.J., to highlight Nicklaus’s accomplishments in USGA events and feature his memorabilia. He also won two US Amateurs (1959, 1961), and two US Senior Opens (1991, 1993).
“These are honors that truly challenge you to put words with, because of how humbling and meaningful they are,’’ Nicklaus said. “I have always held the USGA and their championships in the highest regard. I have played in 71, since I was a 13-year-old junior. They have always been the ultimate and complete examinations of a golfer.’’
Rare bird for Quiros
Alvaro Quiros is one of the longest hitters in golf, so when the Spaniard made a hole-in-one during his Wednesday practice round, it wasn’t a shock that he did it on the 288-yard seventh, a par 4.
“You need to have luck to play good golf, I think,’’ said Quiros. “Unfortunately, it was in a practice round. But it is a good sign, isn’t it?’’
Quiros used a driver on the uphill shot, didn’t see the ball go in, and after taking the ball out of the hole, tossed it into the stands. The albatross might not have come in competition, but it was still important.
“It could sound a little ridiculous, but it was an excellent shot, and especially because I was playing a match against Gonzalo [Fernandez-Castano], and I beat him thanks to this shot,’’ Quiros said. “So that’s the most important thing.’’
It’s a tough ticket
Tickets for the US Open are officially sold out, the 26th consecutive year that has happened. The streak started in 1987, when it was held at the Olympic Club . . . The famous San Francisco fog rolled in Wednesday morning, then burned off. The forecast the next four days is quite good: expected highs ranging from 64 (Thursday) to 81 (Saturday), lows in the 50s, with no chance of rain. If there’s any kind of delay, expect it to be fog-related . . . The USGA announced that its time par - the amount of time it expects groups to play - is 4 hours, 37 minutes for first and second rounds (when threesomes are playing), and 4:02 for the final two rounds (twosomes). Two words: No chance.