Experts agree, teenager Guan set for greatness
Guan Tianlang is destined for greatness. His parents know it, mainland golf knows it and now the world knows it.
The 13-year-old missed the cut at the US$3 million Volvo China Open yesterday, but created a buzz by becoming the youngest player to qualify for a European Tour event.
Playing partner Marcus Fraser, who lies in joint fifth place, predicted Guan 'can be a great player'.
His parents have dedicated their lives to supporting their son, whom his consultant and part-time coach says 'the kid is the real deal' and a 'little machine'. The China Golf Association has already earmarked him for the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the prodigy himself says: 'I want to win a major'.
The Guangzhou teenager leaves on Monday for Los Angeles where he will try to qualify for the US Open - and set more records.
International management firms are already approaching his parents - Guan Hanwen and Liu Hongyu - but the couple are not infamous 'Tiger parents'.
As for whether he is ready to become the new face of Chinese golf, Guan, who added a 79 to his first round 77 at Binhai Lake Golf Club yesterday, said: 'I think I'm ready ... my dream is to win a major.'
Guan and his fellow teens at academies around the mainland represent a new generation of Chinese golfers who have been given expert instruction from day one.
With talisman Zhang Lianwei in the twilight of his career, Liang Wenchong has carried the banner alone. Now Guan is the name on everyone's lips.
'I couldn't believe I was playing with a 13-year old,' Fraser said.
'He was very impressive. You can see he is very competitive too which you need to be.
'If he keeps on the path he is on then he can be a great player.
'To be that age and be able to play at this level is amazing. I felt lucky to be out there with him because if he keeps going he will be in the top 10 in the world pretty comfortably.
'He is very mature, very driven but he is not being pushed into it by his parents - he wants to go out there and play and improve and that is the main thing.
'A lot of kids get pushed into things, but that is not the case here.'
Guan's father, a retired doctor, says he is impressed by his son's focus: 'Golf is a hobby,' he said. 'And with his study at school he rarely gets time to hang out with friends like a normal teenager. He is busier than me.'
But then Guan is not your normal teenager.
'What drives his development is his mother and father,' said consultant and part-time coach Danny Webb, the head coach at the Sand River Golf Club in Shenzhen.
'His mother looks after his nutrition and is very careful about what he eats, and his sleep. They take it very seriously,' Webb said. 'She is a tremendous strategic manager and the dad is very positive. They are unique.
'They made a decision when he was six that he was going to make it. They scaled their business down and have basically focused their whole lives around his school and golf development.
'When he was six, he had three different swings - one like Jim Furyk, one like Ernie Els and one like Tiger Woods. He watched TV with tremendous interest and insight and he could mimic different players. He loves this, he does it himself, he's driving it and his parents support him.'
Webb runs the biggest academy on the mainland with 14 full-time coaches and 300 students. He cited one child who quit school at five to become a full-time golfer.
'That was not his decision. A lot of kids do it to please their dads,' the Canadian said. 'Tianlang is making his own decisions.'
And what sets this generation apart is that they have learned the swing mechanics from an early age.
'They are like little miniature machines,' Webb said. 'You wheel them up to the ball, push a button ... bang, bang, bang ... the swing replicates.'
Although Guan finished 12 over par, Webb said it would not be long before he would be competing week-in, week-out with the big boys.
'He is not that far away now and he's going to get bigger physically,' Webb said. 'He is a tremendous putter and his short game is as good as these guys. It wasn't unrealistic he could make the cut here, but these are unusual conditions for him, being a links course.'
His parents are already wrestling with the many options open for him.
'I think what he does will affect a lot of Chinese kids in the future,' said Webb. 'He will be the model. Typically, the model is a scholarship in the US and we have one student who has just got a scholarship at Duke. I'm not sure what he will do but I don't think they [his parents] want to embrace American culture.' Webb, who believes players can now develop just as well on the mainland as anywhere else in the world, agreed that Guan will one day become a top-10 player.
'I just can't see how he's not going to be. He's been to the world junior championships in San Diego since he was six and he's always in the top five. He won it last year and broke Tiger's [Woods] record.
'That's a pretty good indication. Every year he remains in the top five in his age group in the world, if not the best guy.'
Fighting to be the best guy at the China Open yesterday were a host of players. The 30-strong China challenge was whittled down to just two - Zhang and Huang Wenyi, who were at four under, two shots above the cut. Liang was one of the casualties, missing the cut by one shot, along with 2005 champion Paul Casey, who had a 10 on his card.
Number of days Guan broke the record for youngest European Tour player by, set by Lo Shik-kai at the Hong Kong Open in 2003