As he strode confidently down the lush fairways of Augusta National, the hushed chatter followed. "That's the kid," someone would say, "the 14-year-old kid from China." He may have started the Masters as a novelty, an intriguing sideshow to Tiger's ongoing quest to collect majors, but by Sunday night the whole golfing world knew Guan Tianlang's name.
Defying the expectations that the wiry 5' 9", 140-pound teen would be overwhelmed by the 7,435-yard course, the youngest player to qualify for the Masters became the youngest to make a cut in a modern PGA Tour event. The only amateur to make it to the weekend, Guan leaned on a splendid short game, delicate up-and-downs that made 61-year-old Masters champ Ben Crenshaw coo. Guan hit the fewest greens in regulation (just 29 over 72 holes), but scrambled so effectively that he was one of only two players without a three-putt. He led the field with a mere 108 putts, including a 60-foot putt on the 18th green last Saturday that spawned a boisterous roar. He finished 58th after rounds of 73, 75, 77 and 75.
"He played like a veteran," said Crenshaw, who was paired with Guan in the first two rounds. "He stays well within himself. He's very confident and obviously [has] beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed, very patient."
His thoroughness also cost him a stroke, when he was penalized for slow play at the 17th hole on Friday. But it was Guan's unfailing calm that got him through four rounds at Augusta National.
His poise—on the course, in accepting his penalty, in facing a voracious international press corps daily—has people believing Guan just might have star quality. He has been a quick study. Already, he is evasive about his plans, saying he has received invitations to play PGA Tour events but isn't sure what he'll do.
It's likely, however, Guan and his parents will extend their stay in the States. He will try to qualify for the U.S. Open at Merion in June. The 6,996-yard, par-70 course outside Philadelphia would be well-suited for Guan, whose average drive last week was 262.5 yards, more than 10 yards less than the next shortest player in the field.
By then, Guan may very well be a household name.