by Dan Wetzel Yahoo Expert
Tianlang Guan is 14 years old. Thursday he will compete as an amateur in the Masters, the youngest player in the event’s history.
“I mean, this kid can’t play high school golf,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday. “He’s not in high school yet.”
Tianlang is 5-foot-9 and only about 140 pounds, although growing quickly. He can’t drive the courtesy car given to all players for the week. He can only drive a golf ball around 250 yards. He was born in China after Tiger won his first Masters in 1997. It doesn’t matter. Last fall he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and earned an automatic bid here.
Did we mention he should be in the eighth grade?
The story is partly absurd, except Woods played a practice round with the kid and says he saw the future. The praise has been relentless across the course. The galleries have been huge during his practice rounds. Woods, who once hit golf balls on national television at age two, first met golf’s latest prodigy in China at age 12.
“To see him hit the ball out there at 12, we knew he was going to be good,” Woods said. “We didn’t think he was going to be in the Masters in two years.”
It’s not often an amateur shows up at Augusta amidst this much buzz, but then again the story is too enticing to resist. The talent, everyone agrees, is there. The poise is unheard of for such a young age. While he can’t hit it very far (yet), his short game is supposedly to die for. He may be the harbinger of a wave of talent from China, where the game is growing in popularity.
The talk is that if he can just play within himself, shut out the pressure and keep the game simple, he might make the cut.
Tianlang Guan putts as Tiger Woods looks on during a practice round. (Getty Images)Let’s just say he doesn’t lack confidence.
“I would say I’m not long enough [of a driver], but I think I’m still all right in this golf course,” Tianlang said. “I think I’m still all right, not a really serious problem.”
No serious problem? Got it. He said he brought some homework with him. He’ll do it while staying at the Crow’s Nest above the Augusta National clubhouse. As long as it doesn’t get in the way with a practice round with Tom Watson.
The idea of Tianlang making the cut is absurd. Until you listen to Tiger.
“He’s so consistent,” said Tiger, who first played here at age 19. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing. He knew the spots he had to land the ball, and to be able to pull it off.
“Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution,” Woods continued. “For a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he’s done is just unbelievable.”
Tianlang is 14 years, five months old. The youngest player to ever play in a major championship is Tom Morris, who competed in the British at age 14 years, four months.
That was 1865.
There’s really never been anything like this.
“Because I have the confidence … I know I can play well,” Tianlang said. “So I’m going to play like myself.”
Tianlang qualified by leading the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship nearly wire-to-wire, never once buckling under the rising expectations. He capped it by draining a five-foot putt to win by a stroke.
During their practice round Monday, Tiger asked him how he handled a shot of such magnitude.
“[I asked], ‘You know, what were you thinking?’ ” Tiger said. “[Tianlang said], ‘Just making it.’ ”
Woods laughed at the gumption. Just making it.
“He’s 14, you know,” Tiger said. “Good stuff.”
Can he really make the cut? Some figure the age might actually work to his benefit.
“At 14, you may be too young to know what you’re in for,” argued Matt Kucher.
Tiger said the kid peppered him with questions throughout their round.
“He asked a lot of game questions, whether it’s what am I doing in my game or a strategy on the golf course, practice, playing,” Tiger explained. “A lot of golf stuff. And I was asking him about school and stuff like that.”
No one knows how it winds up. What Tianlang does on Thursday and Friday hardly matters in the long run. If there is one thing everyone agrees it’s that this is just his first of many Masters. Many, many Masters.
“If I had any advice for him, just enjoy it,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’re playing in the Masters at 14. I mean, he could potentially play, I don’t know, sixty Masters. What’s this, the 77th. So he could actually double that nearly.”
Fourteen years old and the best of the best of the game are praising him, predicting great things to come. Perhaps as soon as this weekend.