Tianlang Guan’s historic Masters performance during the past two days at Augusta National will be remembered long beyond Sunday not only for its historical importance but for what it promises about the sport, which is only getting younger, more global and all the more fascinating.
On Thursday, Guan became the youngest golfer to ever compete at the Masters, golf’s most significant major championship. On Friday, he fired a three-over 75 to finish at four-over, exactly on the cut line to become the youngest player not only to make the cut at Augusta National but any major championship, a feat that ranks among the most significant in the 77-year history of the Masters.
Guan’s poise, skill and character in the face of adversity on Thursday and Friday is the strongest notice yet that the next generation of championship golfers is going to come younger and more prepared to compete than ever before.
It’s also further indication that those players are going to arrive from around the world, including Guan’s own China, and will not be intimidated by major championship golf.
In fact, Tianlang’s Masters performance has only built upon recent teenage accomplishments in major championships.
Prior to this week, then-16-year-old Matteo Manassero was the youngest player to make a cut in a major after a 13th-place finish in the 2009 Open Championship. Andy Zhang, like Guan a native of China, was also 14 when he competed in last year’s U.S. Open. Zhang failed to make the cut playing alongside former World No. 1 Luke Donald at the Olympic Club.
Guan’s performance further lowers the age and raises the bar for younger players coming up that we haven’t even heard of yet, and that is significant for the game of golf.
Couple that youth movement with the worldwide appeal of players such as Guan, Manassero and Ryo Ishikawa and you have the sport standing on the edge of its next major growth stage since the emergence of Tiger Woods.
It’s not likely that the bar for making cuts in majors is going to go much lower 13 or 14, but one has to believe it's more and more likely that teenagers will have significant impacts on the game just as they have in tennis for many years now. World-class golf instruction, dedicated golf academies, improved strength programs and the lure of great riches for the elite juniors promise to produce more golfers such as Guan, especially given his success this weekend.
Yes there are pitfalls to teenagers being exposed to such pressure-packed environments, but for the special ones such as Guan who can handle it, the benefit to the game is immense. Golf fans are exposed to these players at a younger, more genuine age, and therefore have more time to create relationships with them that might last decades.
Furthermore, when the best of these players make it to their prime, as Guan will in about a decade from now, they will be far more experienced, mature and prepared to handle the moments that a Sunday at Augusta National will bring.
All that said, the full effects of the past two days on Guan and the game may take many years to fully materialize.
How many young people across Asia will pick up golf clubs as a result of what he accomplished a world away in Augusta, Ga.? What impact might Guan himself come to have on the game buoyed with the confidence he has gained and the exposure he received the past two days at Augusta National?
Those questions will have answers in the future, but what we know today is that golf has a new star, and Augusta National has a new record to celebrate. Given that, what happens the next two days for Guan really doesn't matter, but it goes without saying the world of golf will be watching and rooting for him the rest of the way and likely for many years to come.