Oct. 29, 2010
By: Lauren Chval
In the last days of September, the Notre Dame men’s golf team finished in second place of 14 teams at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Golf Classic on its home turf of the Warren Golf Course. Only a few days later, the women’s golf team teed off at the Warren and went on to beat out 12 other teams for the William K. Warren Invitational title.
Playing for the Irish men’s team was senior Dustin Zhang and for the women’s team was his sister, freshman Nicole Zhang. The siblings from Calgary, Alberta, Canada have been playing together all their lives with college being no exception.
Dustin, who first picked up a club when he was five, played both hockey and golf growing up until he decided to focus on golf when he was 12. Nicole says she was “following in his footsteps” when she decided to take up the sport a few years after he did.
“It was kind of cool when Nicole got into it,” Dustin says. “It was fun to have someone to practice and play with. We worked with the same coach out in California. I tried to teach her a few things and help her out a bit. It’s gotten to the point where I ask her for a lot of advice.”
Whatever help Dustin provided for his sister along the way has served her well. Nicole was named the BIG EAST women’s golfer of the month in September, and in her inaugural tournament for the Irish she broke the Mary Fossum tournament record, carding a 9-under par 207, besting the previous record by seven strokes.
“It’s obviously a huge honor,” Nicole says. “It’s a great way to start my college golf career. It shows how hard I’ve been working and demonstrates how well I’ve been playing recently.”
Bryan Lebedevitch, the coach the two players share, describes their relationship as both motivating and encouraging.
“They have very different playing styles–Nicole is a field player and Dustin is a technical player–but they were both very supportive of each other,” Lebedevitch explains. “They come from a great family. They always had good interactions with each other. I think it was helpful for them to have each other because it pushed them to be better–each one was striving all the time. They’re very talented young people who love what they do.”
Certainly there is a lot of respect between the siblings when it comes to the other’s game. When they were younger, and even now, the siblings competed in what Nicole describes as “friendly competitions.” She says she will often ask Dustin to check her swing or for help with her putting, and Dustin claims he tries to learn as much from his sister as possible.
“She’s really good,” Dustin says. “She can beat me occasionally. I definitely look up to her game. I try to learn a lot from her–as much as I can.”
During the season, because being a student-athlete is a difficult balancing act, the Zhangs are not able to see each other as much as they would like.
“When you have practice and work out every day, you don’t get home until eight at night and then you have to do your homework,” Dustin says. “It’s really challenging and makes you stay on top of your priorities–really learn to schedule everything out; and if you miss a step it’s pretty costly. It’s definitely a good life lesson I’ve learned over the last three years.”
As a freshman, Nicole doesn’t have working through her schedule down to an art form yet, but it is another thing she hopes to pick up from her older brother.
“It’s been a struggle,” she confesses. “It’s such a shock to be in college, playing golf right away and getting into school and taking so many tests. I just hope for the best.”
As Dustin wraps up his own golf career, he looks forward to the part he will continue to play in his sister’s.
“I have a job lined up in New York after college, so I know I’m not going to play professionally when my career is over,” he says. But I want to put as much effort into it as possible and have no regrets after I’m done. And I know Nicole is good enough to play on tour, so hopefully one day I’ll be going to watch her play in tournaments all over the place.”