Date: December 04, 2012

14 year old Guan faces formidable test at Australian Open

It is perhaps ironic that two of the potentially greatest drawcards at this year’s Australian Open just happen to be the oldest and youngest competitors in the field.

At one end of the scale is one of the modern era’s greatest players, Tom Watson, while at the opposite end of the spectrum is the 14 year old Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang.

There is a massive 49 years between the two but they will both create their own share of public interest, further highlighting the ageless nature of golf.

Watson’ achievements are well documented, starting with his first major in 1975 when defeating Australian Jack Newton at the Open Championship at Carnoustie through to his 8th and final major when claiming a 5th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1983.

Watson has gone on to become one of, if not the most liked figures in the game and when, 26 years after his final major victory, he so nearly won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry at the age of 59 before losing to Stewart Conk in a playoff, he further endeared himself to his legion of fans.

Watson won 39 PGA Tour events and nearly 70 worldwide including 14 on the Champions Tour where he is still a force to be reckoned with.

Watson won the Australian Open at Royal Melbourne in 1984 and while he might struggle to be competitive in 2012 his return to these shores will be a great boost for the event itself and for one of the game’s great gentlemen.

While Watson will attract the interest of a lot of fans keen to see him play for perhaps the last time in this country, it might just be the fascination provided by Guan that is of even greater attraction at the Lakes.

In April of 2013 Guan will drive down Magnolia Lane at Augusta National as he prepares to become the youngest ever player to play the Masters. Courtesy of his classy win at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship in Bangkok in November, Guan earned the right to play the opening major of the year.

The previous youngest to play the Masters was the Italian Matteo Manassero who was just 9 days short of his 17th birthday when he teed it up in 2010. Guan will be just 14 years and 168 days when he takes to the fairways of Augusta National.

Guan had displayed his precocious talent even earlier in his life when producing an 11 shot victory in the 11-12 division at the World Junior Championship in San Diego in July of 2011 having finished 4th and second in his age groups in the previous two years.

Late in 2011 Guan won the Aaron Baddeley International Junior Championship in China, earning the right to play this week’s Australian Open but it has been his heroics since that have really alerted the golfing world to a young man destined to carry the new wave of Chinese golfers onto the world arena.

Guan is not a long hitter but at his age it is little wonder. He is perhaps slightly taller than a typical young man of his age but until he fills out further he will struggle to keep up with the length so much a feature of the modern game.

What he lacks in power however he makes up for in finesse and a short game and imagination to die for. At this stage of his career he will not overpower a golf course but he has already shown a capacity to outsmart one.

Over the final two rounds of the event at Amata Spring in Bangkok, Guan played alongside the prodigious talent that is West Australian Oliver Goss. When both players took driver from the tee, Guan was typically out-driven by as much as 70 metres. He seemed totally unfazed, just focusing on his own game and getting up and down when his lack of length prevented him from hitting a green.

This writer was involved as the on course commentator during the televised coverage of the event in Bangkok and having had the opportunity to witness his determination and focus first hand it is hard not to believe that this youngster could well be the ‘new look’ driving force the game in Asia and more specifically China is seeking.

As is the case in all countries, a trailblazer capable of showing what is possible is the greatest means to grow the game. Potentially, China has such an individual in Guan Tianglan.

He will face a formidable test against such a strong field at the Australian Open and on a golf course a little foreign to him but do not be surprised if he gives a good account of himself.

This is a young man who shows remarkable poise on and off the golf course and in the years ahead could well be contending for titles such as the Australian Open and beyond.

By: Bruce Young (