GOLF

Sky's the limit, says Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang

Guangzhou teenager sets sights on another Masters trip with victory at Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 12:14pm

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Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang says there’s “no limit” to what he can achieve at next year’s US Masters if he qualifies by retaining his Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship title this week.

The Guangzhou schoolboy sent shockwaves through the sport at Augusta National in April when, aged just 14 years, five months and 18 days, he became the youngest golfer to make the cut at a major tournament.

And Guan, who lifted the Silver Cup for best-placed amateur, believes the experience will leave him better prepared second time around, should he again qualify by winning the Asian amateur title on home soil in Nanshan, starting on Thursday.

“I really hope I can play at the Masters next April and I will definitely try my best to go high up on the leaderboard,” Guan said.

“As much as I would enjoy my second Masters experience, I hope I can make it to the weekend, win the low amateur again and of course go as far as I can. There is no limit on that.”

Guan said he has ditched his belly putter – ahead of a ban on the clubs from 2016 – and has also been working on his strength and fitness to put distance on his shots.

He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship by a single stroke in Thailand last November, holding his nerve to sink a crucial five-foot putt on the last hole.

Guan’s prize, entry to the Masters, made him the tournament’s youngest ever competitor, beating the record set by Italy’s Matteo Manassero in 2010 when he was aged 16.

He has no shortage of ambition, declaring before the Masters that he aimed to become the first player to win the hallowed ‘grand slam’ – all four majors in the same year.

Despite his slim build and lack of distance with the driver, Guan earned acclaim at Augusta by shooting rounds of 73, 75, 77 and 75 for 58th place.

And he attracted widespread sympathy when he was hit with a harsh penalty for slow play, although the youngster insists he harbours no ill-will towards referee John Paramor.

“I respect and accept the decision,” Guan said. “It was actually a good experience which also made me pay attention to speed when I play. However, I have always been comfortable with my routine and speed. I think it is all OK and I should thank him.”

Guan, who turns 15 on Friday, during the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, said his game was now much improved after his fitness work and experiences this year.

He said he has learned from the likes of Tiger Woods at the Masters, and also from playing on the PGA Tour. After being invited to April’s Zurich Classic, Guan also made the cut there.

In a measure of his sky-rocketing profile, Guan will take on world number one Woods and two-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a “skills challenge” at Mission Hills at Hainan Island next Monday.

“I think my distance has improved a bit because of my fitness training during the summer break,” he said.

“It is not just about the game, but more importantly the experience and what I have learnt from the top golfers, the best professional events, helped me grow.”

This week Guan, who said he was feeling “great” with a conventional putter, can emulate Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Asian amateur title in 2010 and 2011.

And if he does earn another ticket to Augusta, for April 10-13, he said his exploits in this year’s Masters would stand him in good stead.

“The understanding of the course and the tournament would definitely be helpful,” Guan said of Augusta’s par-72 hole layout which this year measured 7,435 yards.

“However, the course will be set up differently each year and it will still be very challenging. I don’t think I would do anything different, just hopefully go there and play a couple of practice rounds to get to know the course.”

However, any plans to turn professional are firmly on hold, with the level-headed youngster insisting “it is not the time yet”.

“Schoolwork and golf are both very important to me. I will think about the whole turning pro thing when I feel I am ready,” he said.