LUMBERTON — Jamie Locklear issued a challenge for Daniel Zeng, a member of his golf academy, earlier this summer to help out his golf game. The results of the challenge have started to show on the golf course for the 12-year-old.
“I had a challenge for him to do push-ups every night. We went from 50 a night to 100, and of course if I ask Daniel to do something, he will do it,” Locklear said. “We saw in the county tournament, where he got backed up to the white tees and I really didn’t think he could shoot the scores that he shot.”
Zeng, whose skill set on the course does not include power off the tee, posted his lowest career round from the white tees during the Robeson County Golf Championship with a first-round 81. He finished in a tie for 15th in the Regular Division as the youngest competitor in the field. Starting Thursday through Saturday, Zeng gets to take on the the best in the world at his age in the US Kids Golf World Championship.
“I didn’t finish too well, but I’m happy to get to go though,” Zeng said. “I know what it feels like to be there once so it makes it slightly earlier this time knowing what I’m up against.”
Zeng earned his second trip to the World Championship by winning the spring points championship of the First Tee of the Sandhills, after finishing in a tie for second at the final tournament of the schedule. This came after he entered the the tournament at Longleaf Golf and Family Club third in the points standings.
Walking off the 18th green with a 78 on the scorecard, Zeng wasn’t sure where he stood until he was announced as the points champion at the trophy presentation.
“It was kind of surprising. It’s kind of like winning the lottery,” Zeng said.
Last year in his debut at the World Championship held at Talamore Golf Club in Southern Pines, Zeng posted rounds of 96, 89 and 88. With Locklear on the bag as his caddie this week, Zeng sets his sights on a better finish after showing improvement in his game in the last year.
“I want to land in the top 80,” he said.
To reach that finish, Zeng knows the venue for the championship, Pinehurst No. 8, will challenge his game.
“The course isn’t going to give anything away,” Zeng said. “It’s not going to be easy. I know No. 8 isn’t going to give up a lot of strokes.”
Having coached Zeng for four years, Locklear has seen growth on and off the course from Zeng, and expects to see improvements on the leaderboard from his student.
“I’m looking for great scores from him that will not only surprise me, but himself,” Locklear said.
Coming off his best round on his home course in the county tournament, Zeng has seen his tournament mentality change with more experience, leading to his solid finish at Pinecrest Country Club.
“Something about playing in the county tournament got me playing well. I shot a new record (low) in the county tournament,” Zeng said. “I didn’t expect to play so well, even with this being my home course. I just got lucky some shots.”
Zeng said what draws him to the game of golf is the the unknown of what each round brings.
“Golf is more enjoyable when you’re playing well,” Zeng said. “You never know where you will be next. You can hit it anywhere along the course and then you have to see what you will do next.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.