AUGUSTA, Ga. — Long putter in hand, the 14-year-old walked the length of the practice tee, ignoring the winner of the latest PGA Tour event and a two-time major winner warming up a few yards apart.
Tianlang Guan might not know Martin Laird and Mark O’Meara on sight or care about their accomplishments, but he was not being rude. Oozing discipline and blinkers-on focus, Guan was into his preparation for the second round of The Masters on Friday.
An hour before the young man from Thailand split the first fairway with his 74th shot of the tournament, he demonstrated an extraordinary ability to envelop himself in a golf cocoon. Not once did he rush his organized and purposeful routine. He started with three golf balls, putting each one from two feet before moving back another 18 inches or so. Next, three long putts back and forth for feel.
Watching with his dad, a 14-year-old from Madison, Wis., said that on a normal Friday, he would shoot some hoops after school and hang out with friends. Guan lives in a different world, his father always nearby.
From the putting green, Guan moved to the short game area, lobbing balls at one pin and then others deeper on the practice green. He never noticed former British Open champion Peter Lawrie to his right.
Steps from Guan’s golf bag on the the practice tee, teacher extraordinaire Butch Harmon said something that made them both laugh — the briefest of breaks from the task at hand. He stretched briefly, removed a red pullover, and started with a half-dozen or more lob wedges.
He had the attention of two men who had traveled from Washington state and the conversation turned to what we were doing at 14.
Personally, I was wheedling a ride to a square dance at an all-girls school, clipping the word "solon" out of the afternoon newspaper for extra credit in a ninth-grade civics class, and dreaming of breaking 100 on the par 65 course next to the Razorbacks’ Little Rock home.
Teeing up at The Masters at 14, said one of the men from the Northwest, "I couldn’t wear white pants."
Sporting light-colored slacks with a pattern, Guan was still working his way through his bag, in no hurry to get to his driver — the club of choice of most teen-agers. Religiously, he checked his take-away and then he did something I can’t remember seeing. With a relatively straight-faced club, maybe a 5-iron, Guan hit a handful of low scooters to a green maybe 70 yards away. Talk about preparation — that’s the shot he might need to play under some limbs.
Lathering on sun screen, Ernie Els said something to Guan who responded with a thumbs up before making the healthy walk to the putting green near the first tee. A TV camera zeroed in when the fans parted and the youngster who was invited to The Masters after becoming the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur walked to the tee, followed closely by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.
Any nerves would have showed immediately because his second shot to No. 1 retreated from the greeen. Clipped perfectly, his chip left a left-to-right four-footer that he struck with conviction.
Pursuing the 36-hole cut, he made nine pars in a row until a slow-play penalty resulted in a bogey on No. 17, but he made the cut at 148.
Generously listed at 5-9, 135, Guan’s distance off the tee is limited, but he was unfazed about using hybrids for his second shot to some of Augusta’s long par fours.
He has some obvious skills and the right mental makeup for success down the road, but there are potholes:
—Chasing more distance, he might make swing changes.
—His long putter is likely to be banned.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.