Tianlang Guan: Get to Know Golf's 14-Year-Old Prodigy
There's something spectacular going on at Augusta this week.
A 14-year-old from China named Tianlang Guan—known as "Langly" to his friends—is going to try to make the cut and compete with the best golfers in the world at the Masters.
Guan is the youngest ever to play in the legendary tournament.
The idea of such a young golfer having a chance in the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club seems like somebody's dream. As happens in sports on occasion, it does not appear to have anything to do with reality.
But that's when the prodigy factor takes over. That's exactly what Guan is.
He may be young, but Guan—who learned the game from his father when he was four years old—has the game of a practiced master, and that's why he is in Augusta, playing the Masters.
How He Got Here
How does a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Guangzhou, China, make his way to the Masters? He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last fall. He was the youngest competitor in that 120-player field and basically led from start to finish.
His performance surprised everybody but himself, as he told Golf Digest:
I set a target to get the ticket for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. I thought I'd have a probability of one-third to win—I knew my opponents. Maybe it's a surprise for you, but for me, it was my expectation.
The winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur earns an invitation to Augusta.
Prior to earning that ticket, the youngest player to compete at the Masters was Italy's 16-year-old Matteo Manassero, who played in 2010.
The young Asian player is not going to wow the crowd with his distance off the tee. That's probably the least impressive part of his game.
Guan is 5'4" and about 145 pounds. He will hit the ball from 240 to 250 yards off the tee. That means some of his competitors will outdrive him by 50 to 60 yards on a regular basis.
None of this bothers Guan in the least. That's because he has the touch of superb player on his shorter shots. He excels with his medium and short irons and uses his belly putter with an expert touch.
Tiger on playing with Guan Tianlang: "He asked me a lot about my swing and my game... I asked him what classes he was taking." #Masters— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 9, 2013
He relies on accuracy and touch rather than strength and distance. He knows he can't reach the green on some shots the way his competitors can.
"That's OK," Guan told Golf Digest. "I'm accustomed to that. I play best from 40 to 50 yards."
Off the Course
Guan is the equivalent of a middle school student in Guangzhou, and he frequently visits to the United States. His annual family trips to the West Coast have put him in contact with American students, and he wishes his school day ended at 2 p.m., instead of 5 or 6 p.m.
Guan started his golf career at a very early age, but he was also exposed to drawing, taekwondo and penmanship. He grew tired of all of these activities—except golf.
Guan enjoys his native Cantonese food, but he is not afraid to eat American foods, which he enjoys when he is in the United States. Specifically, a hamburger for lunch is one of his favorites (h/t Golf Digest).
What a great experience yesterday... Playing with Tiger and Tianlang Guan, the young Chinese star!! What a talent he is going to be!!— Dustin Johnson (@DJohnsonPGA) April 9, 2013
When Guan is not on the golf course, he likes other sports. Basketball is his favorite, and Kobe Bryant is his favorite player. Guan told Golf Digest that he'd love to play a round of golf with Bryant.
He is a thoughtful youngster whom adults in and out of the golf world have described as friendly. Instead of giving one-syllable or one-word answers, Guan will have actual conversations, a ready smile and a courteous personality.
Guan's personality is almost as surprising as his golf game.
Guan is now in the golf annals with one of the great figures in the sport's history. He is the second-youngest player to participate in a golf major.
If you go back to 1860—yes, the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected president—young Tom Morris competed in the The Open Championship (British Open). Morris was one month younger than Guan, who is officially listed at 14 years, six months.
Guan's youth means he has the curiosity factor, but that's not all he brings to the course. He has played practice rounds with Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ben Crenshaw. The latter three all played with him at Augusta.
The best golfers in the world wanted to see what made this youngster tick.
Crenshaw left Guan with the advice to enjoy himself and not to fall victim to the pressure. Guan said he is going to try and follow Crenshaw's advice.
"I think it's going to be a little pressure to me, but I'm not going to push myself too hard," Guan told Golf Digest (via Yahoo! Sports), "and I'm trying to just enjoy my game, play my best, and hopefully play some good scores."
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