At just 12 years old, Bryan Zhao is one of the best golfers on Long Island. It might seem like a lofty statement, but this lad from Jericho Middle School is indeed the real deal.
“I started playing golf five to six years ago,” he said. “My dad introduced me to it. I found the sport extremely fun. I got more into it over time.”
Zhao is part of Team New York in the official PGA Junior League. Recently, the team of 10 young golfers from Long Island headed out west to Arizona to compete in the PGA Junior League Championship presented by National Car Rental at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale.
“It means a lot to me,” Zhao said of being on Team New York. “Our team worked really hard to win the regionals to qualify for the nationals.”
Led by coach Megan Younkman of the LPGA at Bethpage State Park’s golf course and captain Kelley Brooke, the team had high expectations in the tournament. When all was said and done, they finished sixth overall in the Wanamaker Division. At one point, they even out-performed Team Georgia, which went on to win the overall championship.
“We all learned so much from this experience and are inspired by the professionalism and dedications we saw all around,” Susan Wu, Zhao’s mother, said after the tournament.
And the young Zhao had the time of his life at the tournament.
“I learned many things from playing against other great teams,” he said. “I learned how to apply strategies and have a better preparation routine. I also realized that making six- to eight-foot putts is the most important skill to win flags, I will work hard on my putting, so I can go back next year. “
For Zhao, he loves heading out to the golf course, whether it’s at Bethpage State Park or any other facility. His best score thus far is a 71 and -1, an impressive mark for a kid who isn’t even in high school yet. His goal, he said, is to shoot under a 70.
“I do well with my wedge game,” Zhao said. “I get good distance, so I can at least hit a par-5.”
Zhao’s training is quite intense. Once he gets home from school, he goes to his basement to practice his swing. He can spend hours training to improve his game.
His school day ends at 2 p.m., so he arrives at his house by 2:30 p.m. From there, he can play anywhere from nine to 18 holes of golf if he heads out to a course.
“Last year, I was first-place in the kids fall Central New Jersey tour,” he said. “In the middle of the July, I won a Junior PGA tournament at Bethpage Blue for 12 to 14 year olds.”
In the winter, Zhao also skies, though, he doesn’t do it competitively. In the classroom, he loves algebra, and his drive to win is visible there as well.
With all of the winning, Zhao is ready to continue to do exactly that once he reaches the high school level.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “But I need to get better because the people I’m playing are getting better.”
One day, he hopes to be like Tiger Woods or Brooks Koepka.