Other than his baby face, the first clue that something is different about Ted Oh is his golf bag. The blue-and-white nylon model is nothing like the huge billboards PGA Tour pros carry around. It is small and doesn't have one endorsement, nor does it have his name printed on the side.
That's why fans following him in the gallery on Tuesday at Baltusrol Golf Club kept whispering, "That's the 16-year-old, that's the 16-year-old."
Oh heard that so much he joked, "I guess that's my name."
If he keeps up his current golfing pace, that will be the least of Oh's concerns in the future. At age 16, he is the second-youngest player ever to compete in the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday.
According to the United States Golf Association, Oh is believed to be the youngest to compete in the U.S. Open since Tyrell Garth at age 14 in 1941.
Two spaces away from Oh's Baltusrol locker (they are alphabetical) is the one being used by Jack Nicklaus, 53, who won three of his four U.S. Opens before Oh was born in 1976. In fact, eight players in the field competed in U.S. Opens before Oh was born.
Nicklaus, who is playing in his 37th consecutive Open and is the oldest golfer in the 156-player field, introduced himself the other day.
"He said, "Oh, so you're the 16-year-old,' " Oh said. "He hugged me. Mr. Nicklaus is one player I really want to watch hit the ball. He's a legend."
So is Oh, but it's at his Torrance (Calif.) High School, which is the on-location site for the television show Beverly Hills 90210. His principal, Joe Rotcher, called to congratulate him, and students wouldn't stop talking about it last week. Oh had to postpone his final examinations in order to qualify.
"I got here Saturday morning and nobody was here yet," said Oh, who made the trip with his father, Yung, and has been joined by family and friends. "I sat in front of my locker and just stared at it for 20 minutes. I must have taken 12 pictures of it. I looked around and said, "Oh, my gosh, there is Greg Norman's locker, and Jack Nicklaus, and Jose-Maria Olazabal.' It's unbelievable."
So is Oh's game. He birdied the last three holes to make it out of local qualifying to the sectional, where he gained one of four spots in the Open field at Valencia Golf Club.
To try to qualify, Oh _ who just completed his sophomore year _ had to skip the 1993 Southern California High School golf tournament, which he won last year over Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, a more celebrated teenage golfer who is 18 but failed to qualify for the Open.
In February, Oh earned one of two spots in a 120-player qualifier for the Los Angeles Open, but missed the cut with rounds of 73 and 75. Although he didn't start playing golf until age 10, he broke 80 when he was 11 and broke 70 at age 14.
That was also the first time he defeated his father, who is a low handicap golfer and former professional baseball player in Seoul, South Korea, where the family moved from nine years ago.
Despite his relative obscurity and unfamiliarity with such an enormous setting ("There are so many people out there. Wow, gosh. It's unbelievable," he said), Oh is not shy. He approached one of his idols, Seve Ballesteros, on Tuesday morning and asked if he could join him for a practice round.
And he is well aware of what has occurred at Baltusrol, which his hosting its seventh U.S. Open. "It's a beautiful course," Oh said. "I admire the history. They've had seven championships here. People like (Ben) Hogan, (Sam) Snead and (Lee) Trevino _ every one of them played here, and I'm stepping on the same grass they did and teeing up the ball where they did."
So far, Oh has handled it well. At the fourth hole, a 194-yard, par-3 over water, Oh even showed up Ballesteros, who hit his approach shot to 15 feet. Oh, using a 3-iron, knocked his closer.
"He's a very nice young man and he's got a wonderful future," said Ballesteros, who has won three British Opens and two Masters. "I told him a few things like keep the ball down out of the crossing winds and how to play out of the rough around the greens. He has no experience, but he's got talent.
"I enjoyed playing with him very much. In fact we're going to play again (today)."
Oh, one of only three amateurs in the field, tees off Thursday morning at 10:30 with Jeff Maggert and John Flannery.
"I'm very excited," he said. "Of course, I want to shoot as low as I can. But my goal is to play well and have a good time."
Nick Faldo 5-1
Greg Norman 6-1
Fred Couples 6-1
Tom Kite 7-1
Bernhard Langer 8-1
Payne Stewart 12-1
Nick Price 16-1