Zinsner Follows His Heart to Golf July 19, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By Stuart Hall

A multi-sport athlete his entire youth, Teddy Zinsner was drawn to the individual nature of golf. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

Teddy Zinsner is quite possibly the least heralded player in this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Honors Course.

His name is not among the 6,597 listed on the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and he does not possess an extensive competitive résumé. He considers his biggest win to be the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference high school title in May.

And yet Zinsner remains something of an x-factor, as he is making his second successive U.S. Junior appearance. The first national event he played was last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton, S.C.

“When I qualified for the [2015] U.S. Junior, it was the biggest thing I had ever done,” said Zinsner, 17, of Alexandria, Va. “I had basically zero name for myself.”

Zinsner is not new to golf. He got into the game at age 3, thanks to his father, Chuck, and his grandmother, Kay Zinsner. Golf just was never his year-round sport of choice; rather it was a game he played in the summer with his buddies. The rest of his calendar was filled with football, basketball and especially lacrosse.

Lacrosse is a thread that runs through the Zinsner family. His mother, Mary, played at Holy Cross; older sister Addie is a sophomore midfielder at Yale; and younger brother, PJ, 15, is an up-and-comer.

Zinsner, a senior at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., had every intention of playing lacrosse in college. That notion changed in the fall of 2014 when he finished second in his Belle Haven Country Club’s men’s championship.

After some introspection, Zinsner sat down with his parents.

“He gave us his pitch,” said Chuck. “He told us, ‘I’ve got to go with my heart on this.’ He had been very much committed to lacrosse up until then.”

Father and son both admit the change of heart was met with a bit of parental resistance.

“He wasn’t going to take no from us,” said Chuck, chuckling.

The son was not making a knee-jerk decision based off of one result.

“Honestly, I was getting tired of playing lacrosse and I’ve always loved playing golf so much,” said Zinsner. “I always looked forward to playing in the summer, and it’s what I wanted to do.”

There was an attraction to the impartiality of a simple score.

“I think the biggest thing for me is the individual aspect of it,” he said. “I love team sports. I played practically every single sport there was growing up, but was just tired of what goes on outside the lines. In golf, you shoot the number and nobody else can influence how you played.”

So Zinsner’s athletic pursuit became singular in focus.

“He focused and practiced and worked at improving,” Chuck said. “He was going to make his decision work out.”

While Zinsner had played some local one-day events in the past, his decision to concentrate on golf was validated by making last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur.

“That said something,” Chuck said. “Since then, he’s been off and running.”

Zinsner opened that championship with an 80, but followed with a 1-under 71 to miss the match-play cut by a stroke.

“In the second round, I learned how deep I could dig to do something,” said Zinser, who began this year’s championship on Monday with a 2-over 74. “I was pretty overwhelmed when I got there. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. So to be able to dig that deep when I really wasn’t expecting it gave me a boost.”

He has since played six more times on the national junior circuit and this spring played on a Gonzaga team that won its sixth conference title in the past seven years.

“All of the tournament experience?,” said Zinser. “Knowing I can compete with all these players who have made names for themselves? Now, I know I fit in.”

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

More From 69th U.S. Junior Amateur