GOLF: All eyes on Chinese teen at Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Guan Tianlang had plenty of adult supervision at the Masters.
Rules officials kept a close eye on the 14-year-old Saturday, a day after a penalty for slow play nearly kept him from playing the weekend.
The youngest player to make the cut at the Masters said he was never put on the clock, but he was told at least twice on the back nine at Augusta National to pick up his pace.
“I didn’t think he played slow. I think he played pretty quick, actually,” said Thorbjorn Olesen, Guan’s playing partner. “He’s 14, and there’s a big crowd following him, so it’s pretty difficult for him. I think he’s handled it really, really good.”
The Chinese eighth-grader was penalized for slow play on the 17th hole Friday. The one-stroke penalty left him at 4 over for the tournament, and he had to wait until the very last group finished to learn that he could stick around for the last two rounds. He wound up making the cut on the number after Jason Day missed birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes.
“Probably 6:30 I went back home and watched TV and relaxed,” he said. “I did watch the tournament finish.”
Asked if he was nervous, Guan said, “A little. I am pretty excited after the round is finished and I get to play with all the top players on the weekend.”
Guan is at 9 over for the tournament after shooting a 5-over 77 on Saturday.
While slow play is a frequent complaint among golfers, particularly at major events, it’s rarely enforced. But rules officials are tailing Guan around Augusta National like overprotective parents.
Conditions at Augusta National are notoriously tricky, even in perfect weather, and it often takes golfers years before they’re familiar with the course’s quirks.
Guan has relied heavily on the advice of his caddie, Brian Tam, who is a regular caddie at Augusta National. And sometimes Guan is overly cautious.
On the 14th hole, for example, he tossed some grass in the air twice to test the wind, grabbed a club and took a few practice swings before changing his mind. He grabbed another club and took a couple more practice swings before finally hitting his shot.
Afterward, a rules official told him he was 6 minutes over on that hole alone, and he needed to speed it up.
Yet Guan and Olesen finished their round in about 4 hours — just about right. They weren’t close to the group in front of them, but there also was a sizeable gap between them and the group behind them. Guan and Olesen had already teed off on 17 before the next group, Peter Hanson and John Huh, reached the 15th green.
“The weather is good today and we played in twosomes,” Guan said. “So we played fast.”
Guan didn’t seem to be bothered that rules officials want to know his whereabouts at all times. .
“It’s just a great week for me, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “People here are nice, and I learned a lot from the top players. I think I played pretty good rounds these three days.”
A good-sized gallery followed him from hole to hole, including little kids who ran ahead of their parents to stake out spots. Fans already feel they’re on a first-name basis with him, as they are with Tiger, Rory and Phil, calling him, simply, “The Kid.”
“His composure and the poise he’s shown, it’s amazing,” said Bill Armstrong, one of the fans following Guan. “This is huge. It’s a global thing right here.”
Heady stuff for a kid whose mom still packs him snacks for the course.
“I didn’t think of it too much” before, Guan said. “But I’m really happy, and I really appreciate that they’re watching me here.”
Some closer than others.