He's 14 and headed to play at Augusta
Come the spring eighth grader Guan Tianlang will step onto the world stage alongside some of the greatest professional golfers at Augusta National
Published on Monday, Nov. 05, 2012 10:07AM EST
Guan Tianlang is an eighth-grader from China who barely weighs 125 pounds and doesn't hit the golf ball far enough to reach some par 4s. The next stop for the 14-year-old prodigy will be the Masters, where he will tee it up with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson at Augusta National.
“I'm really excited about it,” Guan said after making a 5-foot par putt on the final hole in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship that earned him an invitation to the Masters. “I will be training maybe a little bit harder and got some more power for that because I'm still growing right now. So it will be great fun.”
When Guan makes that stroll down Magnolia Lane, he will do so wearing clothes made by made by Mississauga-based Sligo Wear Inc, which also outfits Canada’s highest-ranked male golfer, Graham DeLaet. Sligo co-founder Shawn Aucoin says the company’s distributor in China has outfitted Guan for the past couple of years.
Guan is believed to be the youngest male to play in a major championship. Andy Zhang of China, who trained at a golf academy in Florida, was 14 years, 6 months when he qualified for the U.S. Open last summer at The Olympic Club. Guan would be about a month younger.
Woods could have seen this coming.
Just two years ago, Woods was playing in the HSBC Champions pro-am at Sheshan International in Shanghai when Guan was in a group of juniors who played with him on the par-3 17th hole. Woods was amazed that day, not only at the polished swing of a 12-year-old, but the poise Guan showed at performing on such a stage — more than a thousand people in the gallery, an audience that included Woods, a 14-time major champion.
Guan's choice of putter - he rolled in the final stroke with a belly putter, which he began using in June because he feels more stable over the putts - is sure to draw more attention to the debate over the club, which is anchored to the body. The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club are close to announcing a decision on whether to ban such a putting stroke.
For now, it's another amazing feat for the eighth-grader at Zhi Xin Middle School in Guangzhou.
Guan started playing when he was 4, going to the golf course with his parents. He goes to California for about three months during the year, staying with relatives in Los Angeles and San Diego to train. He first got attention last year at the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego when he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots.
He was invited to play in the China Open in April, making him the youngest competitor in a European Tour-sanctioned event. Guan missed the cut.
“I feel pretty comfortable with that,” Guan said. “I didn't do pretty well, but it's still a great experience for me. I think it's going to help me in the Masters.”
Guan said he has been watching the Masters every year since 2005, when Woods hit a chip from behind the green on the par-3 16th that hung on the lip for a second before it took one last turn and dropped for birdie, carrying him to a playoff win and his fourth green jacket.
Woods is his favorite player. Along with hitting a tee shot with him on the 17th hole during the HSBC Champions pro-am in Shanghai, he met Woods again during a Nike clinic at Mission Hills a year later.
Guan would like to play a practice round with Woods at the Masters “or anyone else, because the guys that go to Augusta are all fantastic players.”
He became the first Chinese player to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was created by Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient to help inspire growth in the emerging golf nations of Asia. This was the fourth year for the tournament.
Along with getting into the Masters, Guan earns a spot in the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. Pan, the runner-up, also gets a spot in the British Open qualifier.
“I'm so excited,” Guan said. “I'm really happy to become the youngest player at the Masters and looking forward to going there. I don't know what's going to happen there, but I know I just want to do well.”
Guan added to what already has been an historic year at Augusta National, which in August invited Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice to become the first female members in its 80-year history. In April, there will be two women in green jackets, and an eighth-grader from China trying to win a green jacket
CANADIAN CLUB: The Canadian duo of Mark Elgner and Colin Flabbi representing St. George’s Golf & Country Club finished second over the weekend at the 2012 World Club Championship at Diamante Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
After knocking off the defending champions from South Africa, Elgner and Flabbi went on to face the veteran duo of David Abell and Kelly Miller from Seminole Golf Club in the United States. The two have played together in each of the last four World Club Championship tournaments.
The final was a four-ball match play contest with St. George's taking a quick 1 Up lead after the first hole before an eagle on No. 4 squared the match. Seminole then took the lead and increased it to 2 Up at No. 10 before Elgner’s birdie on No. 12 cut the deficit to 1 Up. Two holes later the Canadian side squared the match with a birdie only to give the stroke back on No. 15 when Elgner three putted. The match remained 1 Up for Seminole as the teams headed to the 18th hole. Elgner’s putt from the fringe just misses the mark and par is conceded leaving Miller with a 15-footer for birdie to win the match for the American side.
"I bet the Detroit Tigers every way you could in the World Series. I look back at that and say, 'Wow, you're an idiot.' But in golf I don't look back too many times It's worked out OK." -- Fred Couples ahead of the Champions Tour final event.
Files from the Associated Press were used in this report