Is Guan Tianlang China's Version of Francis Ouimet?

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Is Guan Tianlang China's Version of Francis Ouimet?
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Just two weeks after Guan Tianlang become the youngest player in history to make the cut at the Masters, he went out and shocked the golf world yet again last week by making the cut at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

Guan opened with rounds of 72-69 to make the cut on the number at TPC Louisiana, becoming the youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event since 1900.

Just to put Guan’s accomplishments into perspective, Tiger Woods first made the cut in his eighth PGA Tour event at the age of 19. Guan is a full five years younger than Woods and has already made the cut at a major championship.

Tadd Fujikawa made headlines a few years back when he made the cut at the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii at the age of 16. Guan is a full two years younger than Fujikawa and somehow managed to navigate his way around Augusta National like a seasoned professional.

This is just mind-boggling stuff, and the golf world could very well be underestimating the impact that Guan’s performance over the past month will have on the game of golf in China.

In 1913, there were an estimated 350,000 golfers in America.

At the time, golf was viewed as more of a foreign game dominated by the likes of Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid.

When Vardon first came over to America in 1900, his golf game was head and shoulders above anything Americans had ever seen. For Americans, it was literally like watching Houdini strike a golf ball—just head-scratching stuff that left observers asking, “How in the world can he do that?”  

Vardon toured America in 1900, winning all but one of his challenge matches, and then he edged out fellow Brit J.H. Taylor to capture the U.S. Open title at the Chicago Golf Club.

But this view of golf as a foreign game dominated by English and Scottish golfers all changed just 13 years later when a 20-year-old amateur by the name of Francis Ouimet defeated Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff to capture the 1913 U.S. Open title.

Ouimet is often referred to as the grandfather of America golf due to this single victory at the 1913 U.S. Open.

Ouimet’s victory was so significant for two main reasons:

1) It showed the country that Americans could not only compete against but could even defeat the foreign golfers who had historically dominated the game.

2) Ouimet came from a cash-strapped blue-collar family. So Ouimet’s victory also showed the American public that golf was not a game reserved only for rich country-club types; that even a blue-collar guy like Ouimet could excel at this game.  

Ouimet’s unlikely victory at Brookline opened up the game of golf to an entire population that would have never even dreamed of picking up a club prior to 1913.

Between 1913 and 1923, golf participation in America grew from 350,000 to more than two million golfers, and America took a stranglehold on the professional game that would last for more than 90 years.

Golf was, of course, a very different game back in the early 1900s. Global participation was a fraction of what it is today, and professionals at the time more closely resembled a group of vagabond gamblers versus today’s finely tuned golfing machines.

So the likelihood of an amateur stepping up and winning a major championship in the year 2013 is slim to none.

But that doesn’t mean that a Francis Ouimet-like moment cannot still occur.  

Right now, China is by far the largest untapped golf market in the world. China has a population of one billion people with the fastest growing economy on earth—conditions very conducive to the game of golf.

If even a three percent China’s population takes up the game of golf over the next 10 years, they’d have a golfing population larger than that of America.

Guan didn’t go out and win the Masters, and although he is going to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open in a few weeks, he will most likely not win the 2013 U.S. Open title.

However, Guan’s performance over the past month has still made headlines around the world.

Guan has shown young kids in China that they if they work hard at their games, they may one day have the opportunity to compete against the best in the world. Guan has shown up-and-coming Chinese golfers that if a 14-year-old kid can show up at Augusta National and make the cut at the Masters, then by golly, they can do it too.

Ouimet’s victory had such a massive impact on American golf because it not only piqued the nation’s interest in the game, but it also gave a golfing nation confidence in its ability to defeat the best players in the world.

Guan’s performance at the Masters and the Zurich Classic could very well have an impact similar in China to Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open victory in America.

And if golf takes off in China in a manner even remotely similar to the way in which the game took off in America between 1913 and 1923, it is highly likely that we will begin to see more Chinese golfers having major championship success in the very near future.

For more golf news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.

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