What were you doing when you were 14?
He will not win the 2013 Masters but the 14 year old Chinese sensation was most certainly the biggest story after the first round.
Tianlang Guan is an eighth grader and qualified for golf’s most revered tournament by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in November.
Most all of the ‘experts’ were predicting that Guan would shoot in the 80’s on a course that heavily favors players who hit the ball a long way. Guan hits his drives about 250 yards (which is the distance that some Tour players hit a 3 iron), and conventional wisdom suggested that Augusta would prove to be just too long for Guan to compete. Throw conventional wisdom straight out the door.
Paired with two-time Champion and the game’s greatest gentleman, Ben Crenshaw, and fellow teenage sensation, Matteo Manassero, who had been the youngest player to ever compete here when he was 16 years old in 2010, Guan shot an amazing 73 in the opening round.
In doing so, he bested some of the games’ biggest names. Defending Champion Bubba Watson shot a 75, 2-time Champion Jose Maria Olazabal a 74, long hitting Swede Henrik Stenson a 75 and 3-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington a whopping 78.
Currently he sits right on the cut line in a tie for 46th place. In all likelihood another 73 would gain Guan two more days on the biggest stage in golf and allow him to make the 36-hole cut.
Asked if he was nervous teeing off on the first hole the softly spoken Guan said, “I was a little bit nervous on the first tee, but I hit a great tee shot and after that everything felt comfortable.”
His playing partner for the day, Crenshaw had this to say, “[Guan] played like a veteran today, a 28-year-old journeyman whose been around the block and made a ton of cuts. He played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself. He’s very confident and his thought process never got rushed. Very patient. Very impressive.”
In a day and age when any young phenom is coached from morning till night on their swing and game, Guan is largely self-taught. His swing lacks power but that will change as he grows and his body gets stronger. His short game, however, is already at a world class level, and he played some spectacular pitch shots from very difficult situations in Thursday’s round.
There was a feeling amongst patrons that they were watching the makings of history by being witness to Guan’s maiden visit to Augusta.
There was also an aura of amazement from all the professionals. Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, called Guan’s 73 “phenomenal.”
When asked if he could win this tournament he replied, “I think probably not this year, but I think I can win it in future.”
His remaining goal is to just have fun and enjoy being in his first Masters.
One gets the feeling that we are in fact, watching the opening pages of a new chapter in golf history being written.