Chinese 14-year-old schoolboy Guan Tianlang turned his historic first round at the 77th Masters on Thursday into one for the ages, firing a one-over par 73 to stand as the low amateur player.
When he nervously teed off straight up the middle of the first fairway, Guan became the youngest player in Masters history, breaking the previous youth age mark set by Italy’s Matteo Manassero at 16 in 2010.
“I was a little bit nervous on the first tee,” Guan said. “I had to hit a great tee shot and I did. And then I was just confident.
“It’s like a dream come true. I played good golf. It just feels great.”
When he finished by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt to claim a share of 46th place after 18 holes in his major debut, spectators cheered and applauded as they had all day.
“Today was pretty special for me,” Guan said. “I did a pretty good job. People were nice, cheering for me, and I felt comfortable on the course.”
Many accomplished rivals watched his poise and skill at the 18th hole in stunned amazement.
“There are no words to describe that. It’s an incredible achievement,” said South African Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion. “To hit a hybrid in there 20 feet for birdie and make it, that’s amazing.”
Guan, showing a poise and focus beyond his years, was the second-youngest starter in major golf history, only a month older than “Young” Tom Morris when the Scot made his British Open debut at age 14 in 1865.
“I want to win a major and hopefully I can win the four majors in one year,” Guan said.
Guan, whose mother packed him a snack for his round as she does most every time he plays, qualified for the Masters by winning last year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand.
The youngest golfer in a major in 148 years was seven strokes off the pace and matter-of-fact about his unlikely chance to become the first amateur to win the Masters by claiming the green jacket on Sunday.
“Probably not this year, but I think I can win it in the future,” Guan said.
World number one Tiger Woods, Guan’s idol who played a nine-hole practice round with him on Tuesday, opened on 70. World number two Rory McIlroy was only one stroke ahead of Guan.
Major winners Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson were level with Guan on 73 while defending Masters champion Bubba Watson shot 75 and past Masters winners Mark O’Meara and Jose Maria Olazabal were on 74.
Playing alongside Guan were Manassero and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, who played a practice round alongside the Asian eighth-grader Tuesday and was abundant in praising Guan after the first round.
“He played about four of the most beautiful delicate pitches you’ve ever seen,” Crenshaw said. “It must help to have 14-year-old nerves. He played like a veteran. He played like a 28-year-old journeyman who has been around.
“He played a beautiful round of golf.”
Never appearing to crack under the pressure of the moment, Guan opened with a bogey but responded with a birdie at the par-4 third. Bogeys at the par-4 seventh and ninth dropped him back.
But Guan held his composure despite going birdie-bogey to begin the back nine and again at 13 and 14, setting the stage for his heroics at the 18th.
“I just feel comfortable and relaxed,” Guan said. “I’m pretty focused on golf. That has made me do pretty good so far. Just want to play some good golf tomorrow and just enjoy it.”
Crenshaw says the sky is the limit for the straight-A student.
“I see nothing but straight up from here,” Crenshaw said. “Apart from his schooling in China, his every second is golf. But he has got a passion for it.
“At 14, to have the presence like that is really unusual. He stays well within himself. He’s very confident and beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed, very patient. Very impressive.”