Guan Tianlang: How 14-Year-Old Prodigy Will Fare in 2013 Masters

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent INovember 4, 2012

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Lakatos
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Lakatos

Guan Tianlang has succeeded just by qualifying for the 2013 Masters at the age 14. This is good, because he is not going to have much success when he hits the famed Augusta National for the most prestigious tournament in the sport. 

When Tianlang tees off on April 11 in Round 1 of the most important golf tournament on the planet, he will be the youngest player ever to participate at the Masters. At first blush, his hard-to-believe young age is enough to write off his chances.

But this is golf—where inexperience can be a good thing. 

The inexperience didn't keep the youngster from winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand on Sunday by a stroke to punch his ticket to the Masters. 

We also needn't look any further than Tianlang's age predecessor, Matteo Manassero, to know that inexperience is not a terrible thing.  

The Italian is the current youngest player to have played in the Masters; he did so as a 16-year-old in 2010. Manassero finished that Masters tied 36th as the low amateur.

An even better comparison might be to Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama has participated in the last two Masters after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. In 2011, he was the low amateur while finishing tied for 27th as a 19-year-old. This year, he returned with a heightened spotlight and expectations and he tied for 54th.

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There are countless examples like this in the game of golf. Success can hinge on maintaining the right mental state, and that can be easier to do as a free-swinging youngster with no expectations. Now, if Tianlang entered Sunday with the lead, a little more experience handling pressure would be a benefit, but that scenario is not going to occur. 

Since 1962, the highest finish by an amateur at the Masters was a 13th place finish by Ryan Moore in 2005. So even if Tianlang had the style of game to compete for the lead at Augusta, there would be little reason, and virtually no precedent, to expect he would.

However, as for his game, it appears to be ill-suited for the course.

Now, let me preface this by saying I have never seen the kid play, save a few brief highlights, but there are some facts that point to Tianlang struggling at Augusta.

He was the youngest player to compete at the Volvo China Open at 13. He missed the cut after shooting rounds of 77 and 79. This was likely to due to his lack of length making the longer, more challenging course exponentially more difficult.

PGA.com's Steve Eubanks pointed out, during the China Open, that Tianlang has "an average tee shot that travels less than 250 yards."

While he undoubtedly has picked up some extra distance with the maturation of his body, he is not going to be striking 300-yard drives all of a sudden, and Augusta has always favored players with length. 

The lack of length will limit the holes Tianlang realistically has a chance of going under par on, and that will leave him to simply try and manage the course without picking up any bogeys and with no margin for error.

It would be a shock if Tianlang made the cut, and I expect a two-round score of 150. 

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