Guan becomes talk of the town at US Masters

The Chinese 14-year-old is the centre of attraction at Augusta as the top players marvel at his maturity and ability to stay calm despite his age

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 4:26am

Guan Tianlang has been the talk of Augusta this week, with seasoned pros amazed as much by the 14-year-old Chinese player's poise and maturity as his ball-striking as he prepares to become the youngest player ever to play in the Masters.

Guan has taken full advantage of his trip to the first major of the season, picking the brains of greats such as Tiger Woods, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson, among others.

Next on Guan's hitlist is six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, who won his first green jacket 50 years ago. Guan reached out to the Golden Bear, nearly 60 years his senior, by email.

"I don't know what I'm going to say to him," Nicklaus admitted. "I don't have many 14-year-olds ask for golf advice."

I don't know what I'm going to say to him. I don't have many 14-year-olds ask for golf advice. I don't know anything about him, other than he's got a great future
Jack Nicklaus

Guan will tee off today alongside two-time Masters champion Crenshaw, with whom he shared a Monday morning practice round, and Italy's Matteo Manassero, the previous youngest starter at 16 in 2010.

"I don't know anything about him, other than he's got a great future," Nicklaus said.

"I'll be a little like [tournament founder and golf legend Bobby] Jones was to me.

"Anything I can impart to him, I will be glad to help. I'm honoured anyone would ask me for advice."

Guan has sought and received advice from a host of golf legends over the past few days, starting with Crenshaw.

He played a practice round over the back nine with 14-time major champion Woods on Monday, earning high praise from the four-time Masters champion.

On Tuesday, Guan met World No 2 Rory McIlroy in the locker room and then went around the course with two-time Masters winner Watson, an eight-time major champion. Overnight, Guan was to play in the Masters par-three contest alongside three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo of England in addition to speaking with Nicklaus.

"It's kind of a neat thing somebody would want to get advice from a 73-year-old," Nicklaus said.

Meanwhile, Guan's father, Guan Hanwen, revealed that his son showed an interest at age three or four in watching him play, and it was not long before the elder Guan realised he was not equipped to help the boy.

"Seven years old," Guan, who played to as low as a seven handicap, said when asked how old his son was when he first beat him at golf.

"I found him a coach, but the putting and the short game, he mainly taught himself. He loved the game so much, he taught himself ... he watched TV and learned by himself."

Woods is among those amazed at how composed he appears.

"For a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he has done is just unbelievable," Woods said.

"When I was 14, I was trying to play more tournaments and I was running track and cross country, trying to get homework done. I couldn't imagine not just playing in a tour event, but the Masters," he said.

McIlroy said: "If I had any advice for him, just enjoy it - you're playing in the Masters at 14. He could potentially play 60 Masters. It's incredible, just a great accomplishment."

Australian Adam Scott, last year's British Open runner-up and a 2011 Masters runner-up, marvels at how Guan is able to handle the Masters intensity and pressure.

"I don't know how I would have been able to handle the enormity of the situation as a 14-year-old mentally," Scott said.

"Obviously he can play very, very good golf at 14, better than most, but I just don't know how you handle the pressure and the nerves at that age."

Guan could be just the vanguard of a series of top Chinese talent, Woods warned.

"Going to China for a number of years now, it's just amazing to see the amount of talent that they have, and at such a young age," Woods said.

"It's just about giving them enough starts and enough opportunities and they are going to be out here on tour or playing other tours, but they are coming, and he's one of them."

Reuters, Agence France-Presse