The 2013 Masters at Augusta National will play host to 14-year-old Tianlang Guan (China) this year.
When he tees off in Round 1, the teenager will set history at a tournament already marked by greatness. At 14 years, five months and 17 days old on Thursday, April 11, Guan will surpass 2009 British Amateur champion Matteo Manassero (16 years old at the 2010 Masters) as the youngest player in Masters Tournament history.
By winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the teenager officially qualified for the 2013 Masters. Golfweek's Sean Martin wrote:
Guan, of Guangzhou, China, earned his Masters invitation when we won last year's Asia-Pacific Amaterur Championship and beat some of the world’s top amateurs – including University of Washington All-American Cheng-Tsung Pan, who is No. 9 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking; U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist Oliver Goss of Australia, who is ranked 19th; and two-time Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama is the world’s No. 4 amateur and made the cut in both of his Masters appearances.
ESPN and CBS commentators will certainly chronicle Guan's ascent to success as the tournament opens next week, but the Chinese phenom is much more than just a "good story." He's one hell of a golfer.
While the teenager will set the mark for youth at Augusta National, he's simply continuing a trend started by fellow Chinese amateur Andy Zhang at the 2012 U.S. Open. Last summer, Zhang became the youngest player to compete in the U.S. Open at the ripe young age of 14 years and six months.
In 2009, 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan became the youngest golfer to play in the PGA Championship. In fact, he actually went on to make the cut at the season's final major.
As for the British Open and overall record for youngest player to compete in the major, "Young Tom Morris" played in the 1865 British Open at the tender age of 14 years and four months.
Last month, Guan talked to golf.com's Mark Dee about his upcoming trip to the Masters. More than anything, it sounds like the talented young golfer just wants to soak up the entire experience at Augusta National.
One thing's for sure, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champ knows a quality role model. Guan talked about his "dream pairing" with Dee:
"I would like to play the Masters with Tom Watson. I met him in Sydney, and he invited me to play the practice round together on Tuesday (of Masters week). He is so kind and gentle. It will be my honor to play with such a legend, who would also have a lot to teach me about the course," he said.
That alone speaks to Guan's character as a person and young golf star. The young gun didn't say Tiger, Phil, Rory or Bubba. Instead he chose one of golf's most humble, respected legends (Tom Watson). He'll play with Watson on Tuesday, before playing in the famed Par 3 Contest with three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo the very next day.
Needless to say, Tianlang is a big Woods fan. In fact, he did something very Tiger-ish, as noted by augusta.com's Chris Gay:
At a recent practice session at Champions Retreat Golf Club, Tianlang wore all Nike gear from head to golf cleats – just like his idol. Tianlang, who goes by “Langly” in America, did something else Woods would approve of: He arrived in Augusta a month early to prepare for his first major appearance.
Despite all of his accolades to date, "Langly's" biggest challenge at the Masters may be his lack of distance off the tee. Gay commented on the prodigy's pending challenge:
Tianlang still is developing his power, hitting the ball about 250 yards off the tee (235 carry). Don’t let his lack of length fool you, though. In 2010, Tianlang, then 12, played a hole with Woods at a pro-am event at the HSBC Champions at Shanghai Sheshan International Golf Club. According to chinadaily.com, Tianlang fired a 3-wood tee shot to 10 feet at the 212-yard par-3 hole, while Woods stuck a 4-iron to eight feet and made birdie.
He may not openly admit to a goal of making the cut, but he's certainly got the potential. If he is able to stay around for the weekend, Tianlang will smash yet another record by becoming the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters (currently held by Matteo Manassero at 16 years old).
Even if he doesn't make the cut or finish as low amateur, simply making an appearance at Augusta National as an amateur may be a sign of good things to come for the young man. John Strawn of tourontap.com noted the following:
Since (Cary) Middlecoff won in 1955, there have been 57 Masters. Of those, players who competed first as amateurs have won 22, an astonishing number, and even more so since it doesn’t count Palmer’s three (he never played as an amateur). The former amateur winners are Jack Nicklaus (6), Tom Watson (2), Tiger Woods (4), Jose Maria Olazabal (2), Phil Mickelson (3), Ben Crenshaw (2), and Mark O’Meara, Craig Stadler, Tommy Aaron, Charles Coody, and Trevor Immelman with one each.
The golfing world outside of China will officially be introduced to Guan on Thursday, April 11 at the Masters. While it will be his coming-out party, plan on him staying around for years to come.
Watch out America, here comes one of the game's young greats.