An inspiring win at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship has thrust young Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang into the golf world’s limelight.
The schoolboy earned a berth at the US Masters by winning the championship at the age of 14 in Thailand in November. He will become the youngest ever player at a major when he tees off with the world’s elite in Augusta in April. The win also secured him a place in the final round of international qualifying for next year’s British Open.
What young Guan has achieved has not surprised his father, Guan Hanwen, as gaining Masters qualification was always on this year’s agenda.
“Some people said he was a dark horse at the tournament, but he was not actually,” his father told China Daily. “He won several big tournaments last year and was the No 8 amateur player in Asia at the beginning of the year. He had early set his sights on victory (in Thailand) and qualification after deciding to participate in the tournament, and we believe he was competitive enough to fight for the win.”
Guan Tianlang, nicknamed “Langly”, led the tournament each of the four days and shot a final-round 71 to hold off Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei by a stroke.
“I was very happy for Langly’s victory, but was not overwhelmed by any sudden surprise because he led the game from the first day, and nobody surpassed him,” Guan Hanwen said. “But it turned out to be unbelievable when people suddenly knew the result, because it was such an important international tournament and the opponents were strong.
“Langly has his own characteristics (on the course). He is mentally strong. He does well in every aspect of the game, which allows him to play steadily … and that’s very important,” said his father, who has been a golf enthusiast since the 1990s, and always discusses the game with his son after a day’s play.
Standing out through his eye-catching early performance, Guan Tianlang was well supported by the Thailand gallery, with most fans willing him on to win the title over the final two rounds, his father said.
There is no doubt the teenager’s popularity will soar even further at Augusta, which will put great pressure on the youngster, but he appears unfazed.
“I think I have done well in coping with pressure,” Guan Tianlang said at the Dongfeng Nissan Cup in Shenzhen at the weekend. “I think there is no need for me to think too much at the Masters, but to keep my beat and strategy.”
Langly’s composure may help him to compensate for his lack of driving strength at the lengthy 7,435-yard (6,799m) Augusta National Golf Club.
“The course is too far for a child who can only hit 240 yards. Even the course in Thailand (Amata Spring Country Club, 7,322 yards) was long for him,” his father said. “There were four holes impossible for him to hit to the green due to his lack of strength, which gave other players considerable advantages.
“But Langly was always able to catch up, thanks to his stable mentality; he was not influenced by losing one hole, but focused on how to win it back at the next,” he said.
After making his debut at the Ryder Cup-style OneAsia event in Shenzhen, Guan Tianlang flew to Australia with his parents on Sunday night to prepare for the Australian Open.
Despite his impressive performances over the past two years, few tournaments are expected to be added to his schedule in 2013.
“He doesn’t play many games a year, and we don’t care about the rankings,” Guan Hanwen said. “Though Langly is young, he has a clear mind and he knows competence is more important than rankings. If you are competitive enough you can easily raise your ranking.
“We are also choosing tournaments according to their importance,” he said. “When he wins a tournament, he will change to others of a higher level. There is less meaning to doing what is easy to achieve, though it always a happy thing to win.
“We will keep it at one tournament a month, or two at most, because he is used to the easy pace and going back to school after each event,” his father said. “It would not be good for him to make a quick change, so we will do it step by step.”