By Sean Martin, Golfweek
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tianlang Guan has been in Georgia for about three weeks, having played Augusta National “six or seven” times before his Masters debut. When you’re 14 years old and middle school is your biggest concern, you might as well take advantage of Augusta National’s open-door policy for Masters competitors.
None of Guan’s previous tours of this famed property were like today’s, though. This was the first time the patrons were on the grounds. They come to see Amen Corner, but Guan also was a source of curiosity. “Is this that young kid?” was a constant question from patrons.
Guan, who's staying in the Crow's Nest on Monday evening, brought his English homework with him to Augusta, and seems to be a good study. Guan, of Guangzhou, China, answered all his questions in English. He got quite the on-course education Monday, playing with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. He also has a practice round scheduled with Tom Watson and a tee time at the Par-3 Contest with Nick Faldo. Monday's practice round was arranged by a modern mode of communication, text message, but done so with an appreciation for the past. Crenshaw is an Augusta National institution, and there’s no one better to teach about the intricacies of this Alister Mackenzie design.
On each green, Crenshaw grabbed his famed blade putter by the head and gestured with the grip end, indicating the upcoming hole locations and the proper line to those targets. Guan was an attentive student. His demeanor didn’t reveal any anxiety or awe for his surroundings. His eyes focused on the upcoming shot, not the setting. There were no large displays of emotion.
“All of us ask, ‘What would we do at 14 (at the Masters)?’ He’s very intense. He has good concentration. You can tell he breathes golf,” Crenshaw said. “Watching him approach a shot and concentrate, it’s fun to watch.
"He’s assured, he’s confident, which is nice to see, but he’s also the nicest boy.”
Guan earned his Masters invitation by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur; he shot 15-under 273 (66-64-72-71) at Thailand’s Amata Spring Country Club in November. He’s the third player to compete at the Masters via that new championship, which Augusta National co-founded in 2009. Hideki Matsuyama confirmed that tournament’s validity by making the cut in the past two Masters. Guan isn’t expected to make it to the weekend, but his scores are the source of much speculation.
When asked what he would consider a successful week, Guan said, “Just enjoy the tournament and play some good shots . . . and hopefully I can play well. . . . I think it's going to be a little pressure to me, but I'm not going to push myself too hard." Guan has played two pro events, the Volvo China Open and Emirates Australian Open. His high score is 82. His low is 70. He missed the cut in both.
Guan, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 143 pounds, only hits his tee shots about 250 yards, relying on a strong short game for success. “I would say I’m not long enough,” Guan said candidly, “but I think I’m still all right for this golf course. . . . Not really a serious problem.”
He’ll have to hit fairway woods and hybrids into many of Augusta National’s par-4s, but his lack of clubhead speed and distance also gives him a smaller shot dispersion, allowing him to keep the ball in play. He doesn't need to make the cut to make history, though. He only has to arrive at the first tee Thursday.