Oh boy. Those two words tell the whole story of the second-youngest golfer ever to tee up at the U.S. Open. Ted Oh, who is just 16 years and 10 months of age and is still in the midst of his sophomore finals at Torrance (Calif.) High, admits he was a bit overwhelmed when, on the Monday before the start of the championship, he discovered that his locker was right beside Jack Nicklaus's and Greg Norman's. His pulse raced during the practice rounds when he played with the likes of Davis Love III, Josè-Maria Olazabal and Tom Kite. It was Kite who tried to tether Oh back to earth. "He said, 'Just don't call me Mister,' " said Oh. "He said I could call him Tom, but I still called him Mr. Kite."
Oh also tuned up with Mr. Ballesteros, who not only gave the kid some tips on his chipping but also helped him brush up for the Spanish final he was scheduled to take this week. "Ted was like a sponge out there," says his coach, former Tour player Brad Sherfy, who caddied for him in the Open. "Here was this teenager basically taking lessons from the best pros in the world. He's come an awfully long way in a short time."
Oh was born in South Korea, and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was seven. He started playing golf at the age of 10, mainly because he liked to drive the golf cart for his father, Yeong, a onetime shortstop in a pro baseball league in Seoul who now operates a T-shirt business. By the time he was 12, Ted was shooting in the 80s, and at 14 he broke 70 for the first time.
Last week the rapidly maturing Oh could be heard talking wistfully about that bygone day in the late '80s when he was 12 and a caddie tossed him a ball at the Los Angeles Open. At the U.S. Open the young man with a name made for autographs signed and delivered so many of his own golf balls to his fans during one practice round that Sherfy finally had to stop him because only three balls remained in Oh's golf bag.
Although Oh struggled at Baltusrol—his 76-79 missed the cut by 11 strokes—he did fare better than the holder of the Open record for youth, 14-year-old Tyrell Garth. After qualifying for the 1941 Open at Colonial, in Fort Worth, Garth shot an opening-round 80 and withdrew. Oh's demise was due to wildness off the tee, hardly a surprise for somebody who received his driver's license only a few months ago.
"There were times out there when his heart kind of felt like it was ripping out," said Sherfy, "but at those moments the fans would always hit him with this barrage of applause. It was kind of touching the way they reacted to this young man. I was getting choked up just carrying the bag."
Oh wasn't quite so moved on Thursday. After a birdie putt on the 9th hole put him one over, he began to show his age. On number 10 he snap-hooked his tee shot, which ended up under a tree, then hit a nine-iron across the fairway into the deep rough on the opposite side. When he finally reached the green, he knocked his 35-foot putt about 50 feet and ended up three-putting for a triple bogey. "Hey, I'm 16," said Oh. "I was mad."
The second-youngest golfer ever to play in the U.S. Open had his ups and downs.