Chinese teen earns Masters berth with win in Asia-Pacific Amateur
The youngest competitor in Masters Tournament history is still in middle school, likes Tiger Woods and uses a belly putter.
Other than that, Guan Tianlang, of China, is a normal teenager.
Guan, 14, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Sunday to earn the automatic berth in the 2013 Masters.
He shot 1-under-par 71 at Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok to capture the tournament by one shot over Cheng-tsung Pan, of Taiwan, who closed with 65. Oliver Goss, of Australia, was third, and two-time defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, finished with 68 to finish fourth.
The winner also received an exemption to the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. But the buzz Sunday was about his expectations for next spring. Previously, the youngest competitor in Masters history was Matteo Manassero, of Italy, who was 16 in 2010.
“I’m really excited about it,” Guan said on a conference call. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Guan opened the tournament with rounds of 66 and 64 to open a five-shot lead. But he came back to the field with an even-par 72 in the third round, setting the stage for Sunday’s drama.
With Pan making a charge, Guan played steady golf. Pan was one hole ahead of Guan, and narrowly missed a birdie putt on the final hole. Knowing he needed a par on the difficult final hole, a par 4 of 477 yards, Guan hit the fairway with his tee shot. His 3-wood second shot came up short right, and he faced a long pitch to the back left pin.
He nearly holed the chip, but it ran past the hole about five feet. Guan sank that putt for the one-shot win and trip to Augusta.
“I just focused on my game and do my own routine,” Guan said.
Guan took up the game when he was 4 or 5 he said, and he would often follow his parents to the golf course. He now spends the summer months training in California.
“I usually train in Los Angeles and San Diego, and I just stay in a friend’s house and go to play with the juniors in America,” Guan said. “So nothing special.”
He has been in the spotlight before. He played in the China Open this spring, and was the youngest player, at 13, to ever compete at a European Tour event. In 2011, he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots at the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego.
Guan credited the belly putter for his success on the greens.
“I started using it in June this year and I think it’s more stable, so I just use it,” he said. “And this week, my putting was pretty nice, 25, 22 putts in the first two rounds. So it really helps me.”
The slender Guan hits the ball about 250 yards off the tee, which might make it tough for him to get around Augusta National Golf Club’s layout that plays more than 7,000 yards.
“I will be training maybe a little bit harder to got some more power for that because I’m still growing right now,” he said. “So it will be great fun.”
Golf is extremely popular in China, and Guan thinks his Masters appearance will only add to it.
“I think you get more people that know about golf and more people support for the golf in China,” he said. “And it’s really good for the Chinese golf.”
He said he doesn’t want to think too much about the upcoming trip, or who he will try to play practice rounds with. Woods, a four-time Masters winner, seems to be a likely choice if Guan has his way.
“I think he has a strong mind and strong heart,” he said of the golfer he’s already met twice. “So I think that’s why he’s so great, a good player.”