Chinese boy, 13, to take on Euro pros
Thirteen-year-old world junior champion Guan Tianlang will make history next week at the Volvo China Open in Tianjin when he becomes the youngest player ever to compete in a European Tour event.
Guangzhou-born Guan is expected to add to that remarkable feat at the Australian Open and the Australian Masters later this year, although qualifying is still taking place.
The youngster earned his place in next week's 156-man field at Tianjin's Binhai Lake Golf Club by virtue of finishing fourth in the mid-China qualifying event in Hangzhou three weeks ago. Guan thought he had failed in his quest for a place in his national open after narrowly missing out in a two-hole play-off for the third qualifying spot.
But the China Golf Association yesterday announced its list of exempted players, which includes the winner of the mid-China leg. That decision saw Guan move up one place and into the US$3 million tournament, which is also co-sanctioned by the OneAsia tour. 'I'm so excited right now,' said Guan. 'I was disappointed to lose out in the play-off and I thought I'd blown a great chance to make history, but then to find out I'm actually going to play is like a dream come true.
'My goal now is to be the youngest player ever to make the cut in a European Tour event, and if I can shoot level par or better I'll have a good chance to do that.'
That record belongs to Hong Kong teenager Jason Hak Shun-yat, who made the cut at the UBS Hong Kong Open in 2008 at the age of 14 years and 304 days.
Guan first picked up a club at the age of four, and since then has won dozens of age-group tournaments around the world. He lifted the world junior crown in San Diego last year by an incredible 11 shots after opening with a nine-birdie, bogey-free round of 63.
And if that score wasn't good enough, Guan shot 62 in a junior tournament in Shenzhen last December, the same month he won the Aaron Baddeley Invitational over his home course at Lion Lake Golf Club to earn his place in the showpiece Australian events at the end of this year.
Guan played in the [youngest] 15-year age group, but his four-round score of two-under-par 286 was at least two shots better than the winners of the 16-, 17- and 18-year age groups.
The globetrotting youngster played one hole with former world number one Tiger Woods during the pro-am event at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last year, an experience he described as 'totally cool'.
Woods hit a 4-iron to eight feet on the 212-yard par-three 17th, and then Guan hit a 3-wood to 10 feet from the hole.
Guan competes in amateur events on a regular basis but says his travel commitments do not affect his schoolwork.
'I don't take schoolwork with me when I travel - I just work very hard when I'm at school,' said Guan. 'Actually, I'm doing pretty well right now and my grades are high.
'My favourite subjects are English and PE.'
China Open operations director Alistair Polson said: 'Anyone who has seen Guan play would not rule him out from making the cut next week. He really is a talented young player.
'He displays a maturity well beyond his 13 years and doesn't seem fazed by spectators or the intrusive nature of the media.
'Being a local player I expect he will receive a lot of media attention so I hope he does well.'