Tianlang Guan: Why His Slow-Play Penalty Tarnishes the 2013 Masters

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

Despite being hit with a one-stroke penalty, Tianlang Guan is fighting to make the cut at the Masters.
Despite being hit with a one-stroke penalty, Tianlang Guan is fighting to make the cut at the Masters.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The magical story of Tianlang Guan took a completely unmagical turn during the second round of the Masters.

The 14-year-old Chinese phenom was in the process of completing the back nine with a clean card. When he came to the 17th hole, he had nothing but pars on the previous nine holes. He appeared to score a par four on the 440-yard 17th hole, but Guan was penalized a stroke for slow play.

Guan finished his round with a par on the 18th hole and shot a three-over 75 for the day. He is four-over for the tournament and was 10 strokes behind the leaders when he finished his round.

That's critical. The top-50 golfers after two rounds all get to continue the tournament in the third and fourth rounds. Additionally, any golfer within 10 strokes of the lead is also allowed to play on.

If the 36-hole leader reaches seven-under or better, Guan's four-over would not be good enough to move on. However, if his score winds up in the top 50, he would be allowed to play.

Guan had been warned for slow play on the back nine by European judge John Paramor, a man with a reputation for having a superb grip on the rules. The youngster was apparently advised of the potential infraction on three separate occasions.

Guan was penalized for taking more than 40 seconds to complete his stroke after addressing the ball. Guan's play had been deliberate throughout much of his two rounds, but there's a big difference between deliberate and slow.

The PGA has often talked about wanting to increase the pace of its play during tournaments. However, stroke penalties for slow play are quite rare.

"He had warnings," Paramor told Yahoo.com. "Everything needs to be done to [preserve fast play]. I made that clear on the walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee. [In the fairway] he walked up the hill to have a look."

That's when the stroke penalty was handed down.

Hitting a 14-year-old amateur with a stroke penalty does not seem like the best way for the Masters and the PGA to go about its business.

While officials can and should go after experienced professionals who slow things down by changing their club selection and dawdling, it's poor judgement to hit a youngster with a penalty.

It's especially unreasonable to do it when no other golfer in the field has been assessed with a penalty. It reeks of bullying and injustice.

Playing-partner Ben Crenshaw was crestfallen when he learned of the penalty that Guan had been assessed.

Guan did not complain about Paramor's ruling in an interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after the round. He explained that he had decided to change clubs on several occasions because of the wind.

When he changed clubs, it cost him more time. He acknowledged that Paramor had warned him about slow play and he did not complain about the assessment.

There was a shocking maturity to the 14-year-old's demeanor.

Guan played tremendous golf over the first two rounds. He deserves to play on Saturday and Sunday.

If Paramor's ruling keeps Guan from participating in the latter stages, it would tarnish what has a chance to be an unforgettable Masters tournament.