Should minors play in the Majors?June, 2012
The debate surrounding 14-year-old Andy Zhang’s inclusion in this year’s US Open...
It has been announced that Paul Casey has been ruled out of this year’s US Open and will be replaced by 14-year-old Andy Zhang – a move that will certainly raise some eyebrows and bring into question whether players as young as 14 should take part in tournaments as prestigious as the US Open.
Nobody should attempt to deny that the China-born ,Florida-based player is not physically capable of playing the course at Olympic.
Zhang stands at 6ft tall and is a natural striker of a golf ball capable of generating the distance needed to get round in San Francisco.
What is more questionable however is whether the youngest US Open competitor since the Second World War has the mental strength to deal with the pressures of playing in a major championship.
The demands placed upon his young shoulders at Olympic will be unlike anything the Beijing boy has faced before. Many seasoned and talented professionals have fallen to pieces in major championships – think back to a certain Northern Irishman at the final round of the 2011 Masters if you are looking for evidence.
The biggest issue for Zhang is: could playing the US Open actually serve to harm his development? Crucially, the front nine at this year’s US Open is as tough as any in the world, and if a golfer doesn’t have the mental resolve to keep going and stay patient throughout their round, there is a good chance they will capitulate.
The biggest issue for Zhang is if that does happen, could playing the US Open actually serve to harm his development?
It will be a chastening experience whatever the outcome and good mentoring throughout the tournament will be essential.
Many would argue that the free space made by Casey’s exit should be given to more established professionals who failed to qualify, like Ross Fisher, who has top-five finishes in his last two starts.
Equally, though, you could argue that the young player is there on merit and therefore should be allowed to play regardless of his age.
If Zhang is good enough to play in the US Open at 14 then it seems logical that he will be good enough to play when he is 17 or 18 provided his development is managed properly.
With that in mind, it is hard to see what his inclusion in this year’s tournament will achieve, except a sheer examination of a golfer who is unlikely to be in control of his own game.