Beijing teenager Jin Cheng ready to fly the flag for China at Masters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 11:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 1:22pm

China’s latest golf hope, Jin Cheng, tees off in the Masters on Thursday trying to emulate “close friend” Guan Tianlang, who impressed three years ago at Augusta National.

The 18-year-old from Beijing stamped his ticket for the year’s first major by winning last year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the same door taken by Guan.

He will be nearly four years older than Guan, who became the youngest-ever player at the Masters in 2013 at 14 years and five months, and even made the cut in what was an astonishing display of precociousness.

All I want to do this week is play my best and enjoy everything here
China prodigy Jin Cheng

But Jin said on Monday that to match Guan’s achievement in playing at the weekend would be a tough challenge, going up against the best golfers in the world for the first time.

“We definitely talked a little bit ... and I’m close friends with him,” Jin said.

“Guan definitely played great when he was here, making the cut at 14. He’s definitely hard to beat. He’s like a legend, making the cut at 14. All I want to do this week is play my best and enjoy everything here.”

Jin, who recalls watching the Masters on television back home in China when he was growing up, has taken every opportunity to experience the real thing before his debut.

Arriving a day before his 18th birthday at the start of March, he has now played the fabled Georgia layout five times, including nine holes of practice this week with world number one Jason Day.

“We did talk a little bit, and Jason is definitely a great guy. I learned a lot from him. I enjoyed the time, the nine holes I spent with him,” Jin said.

“He asked me, like, if I’m going to get nervous or not. I’m like, ‘Yeah, for sure.’

“He just helped me to focus more and focus on my game. But he said it’s normal and good to get nervous, but when we come to the shot, we’ve got to get focused.”

The future certainly looks bright for Jin at a time when China is still searching for that elite-level player than can win titles and majors to further underpin the growth of the sport in the mainland.

But, for the moment, he is resisting the urge to turn professional and instead will play collegiate golf in the United States from later this year.

“I’m going to Southern Cal in the fall, so I’m not turning pro,” he said. “I’m going to play some tournaments, but no fixed schedule yet.”