After Andy Zhang, 14, nailed a birdie on the 18th hole at the Olympic Club during the first round of the 2012 U.S. Open Championship, his caddie Chris Gold said it was probably the most exhilarating moment of a historic weekend.
Chris Gold, a Haddonfield Memorial High School graduate, is the trainer and manager for amateur golfer Zhang. Zhang was the youngest golfer to ever qualify for the U.S. Open in the history of the professional golf championship, which was held from June 14 to June 17.
Zhang ended up not making the cut, but improved each day he was on the course. His opening round score was a nine-over, 79, but he improved to a seven-over, 77, in the second round. He had some esteemed company of golfers who didn’t make the cut, with the 2012 Masters Champion Bubba Watson and last year’s U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy being two of many golfers who joined him in a two-round exit.
It was a tough course to play, with the eventual winner Webb Simpson shooting a one-over par after four rounds of play.
Not too shabby for a 14-year-old golfer.
Zhang said that having a steady, older presence like Gold by his side during the tournament helped him immensely. It helped him not only in golf, but also with the sometimes-suffocating media presence at the open.
Gold helped him through interviews and kept the throngs of media at bay during the few days leading up to the championship open.
“Last weekend was a great learning experience for both of us. It was his first time carrying a bag in the U.S. Open. He’s always been very helpful to me, not just to improve my skills or caddie-wise, but he helps me mentally, especially the past weekend,” Zhang said while on the driving range with Gold two weeks ago.
Gold, a 25-year-old golfer who has reached the sectionals of a U.S. Open qualifying match himself, has been training Zhang for the past five months. Zhang’s father approached Gold while he was working on his own game at the driving range at Reunion Resort golf in Orlando and asked if he would be interested in training and managing his son.
Luckily for Gold and Zhang, he agreed. Five months later, Gold said this past weekend was one of the most amazing experiences of his entire life.
Walking up to the first tee on the opening round was awe inspiring, Gold said. Cameras were trained on Zhang for just about every single shot the entire time he was in the open.
“Going up to the first tee was just awesome. He hit it well, but he hit in into the left rough. We didn’t start off too well obviously, he was eight-over after the first five holes,” Gold said. “But for a 14 year old to stay calm it was great. I just told him that we need to relax. Starting off poorly really took the pressure off; we didn’t start off on the right foot. I told him that we just needed to relax and play Andy Zhang golf. He settled down and played well after that.”
The most star-struck the duo was all weekend? Gold said it was actually a practice round before the opening day of the U.S. Open that Zhang played with PGA Professional Bubba Watson, who won the 2012 Masters.
It was nerve wracking, Gold said, to share a course with Watson.
“The practice round with Bubba was so laid back, it was great,” Gold said. “It showed us that they’re all just normal guys and play golf for a living. It was a great experience.”
Gold will practice with Zhang for the next two months before Zhang takes a break and heads back to Beijing for a well-earned vacation. As for Gold’s golf career, he is still focusing on making a run himself.
But right now? It’s all about Andy.
“He’s got a few more U.S. Open’s in him. I told him to just enjoy the experience and have fun.”