Tianlang Guan: Why 14-Year-Old Is Already a Big Winner at the Masters

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 06:  Guan Tianlang of China plays a shot during round one of the 2012 Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club on December 6, 2012 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Matt King/Getty Images

There are Cinderella stories, and then there are Cinderella stories.

Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old golfer from China, is playing in the 2013 Masters Tournament. He is the youngest player ever to earn a spot in the storied tournament and the second youngest player in the history of golf's major championships.

Guan's plan is to compete against the best golfers in the world—including his hero Tiger Woods—and gain the experience that will one day allow him to compete on even terms with the sport's elite.

The 14-year-old is not a big hitter, and he will almost certainly get overwhelmed by pros who can regularly hit the ball 300-plus yards every time they tee it up. He is not likely to hit the ball more than 250 yards. However, that's part of what makes his story so remarkable.

Guan is basically an artist at the short game. When it comes to his approach shots and putting, he appears to be a golf prodigy.

Guan qualified for the Masters because he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in November. At the time of that tournament, Guan ranked 490th among all world amateurs. He was not given any chance to win such a prestigious event that included an invitation to the Masters for the winner.

He was the youngest golfer in the 120-man field.

However, Guan led at the end of the first round. While that was not considered huge, it opened a lot of eyes when he retained the lead after the second and third rounds.

The best amateur players in Asia came after him hard in the final round, but Guan never gave up the lead. On the final hole, he stood over a five-foot putt that would give him a par and earn him the championship.

The ball went in the center of the cup. Now, at 14 years and five months, Guan is the youngest golfer to participate in a major tournament since Young Tom Morris played in The British Open in 1860. Young Tom has Guan beaten by one month, according to ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski.

Morris was a golf legend more than a century-and-a-half ago. Perhaps Guan will be able to join him.

Danny Webb, Guan's golf coach in China, thinks Guan has a chance to go where no Chinese golfer has ever gone before.

"He is the best kid I've seen anywhere," Webb told the UK Guardian. "I think he will be the first Chinese major winner."

Despite his lacking size and power at 5'9" and about 145 pounds at the moment, he gives away nothing to other golfers. When he is not in school, he is constantly competing or practicing, according to Robert Townend, the director of operations at a country club in which Guan is a member.

His work ethic is what separates him from other golfers, according to Townend, and not just 14-year-olds. Said Townend, via the Guardian:

I think Guan's work ethic and focus are what really stands out for me. When he is not away playing in tournaments you can guarantee that he will be up at Lion Lake Country Club (located in Qingyuan, Guangdong) straight after school finishes at 4pm, practicing extremely hard on his game.

That's certainly the basis for the talent and ability he has shown to this point in his career, and it will almost certainly be his backbone for whatever he can achieve in the future.

However, the young Chinese golfer also has an incredible amount of talent and his ability to strike shot after shot with consistency and accuracy borders on the absurd for such a young golfer.

His name may be barely known at this point, but Tianlang Guan can introduce himself to the world with his performance at the Masters.