Guan Tianlang – with the trophy that got him to Augusta National – photo APAC
In 2012 I was contracted by Augusta National to join host Bill Macatee and analyst Frank Nobilo on the commentary team for the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship at the Amata Springs Golf Club outside of Bangkok.
Augusta National had funded the event since first being staged in 2009, the winner on each occasion being invited to play the Masters at Augusta National the following year.
It was a great gig for me and led to being involved in the role as on course commentator in the event over the next six years.
In that first event in Thailand a young 14-year-old would dominate the event from an opening round of 66 and eventually win by one shot over Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan with another two shots back to Australian Oliver Goss.
The two aspects of Guan’s game that stood out to me that week were his uncanny ability to manage his way around the layout despite being significantly shorter from the tee than most of his rivals and, secondly, being desperately slow in his decision making for and execution of shots.
Guan had already developed a reputation by being the youngest player to play in a European Tour event at the age of 13 when doing so at the 2012 Volvo China Open and he entered the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship few months later as one of the more favoured players but hardly the favourite.
Not only did he win but it was the dominant manner in which he led from the start that so impressed and although only just scraping home with a beautiful six foot sliding left to right putt for par at the last it was a victory that would open many doors.
This writer interviewing Guan after round three in Thailand
The most significant of those doors was a start at the Masters the following year. In earlier years Hideki Matsuyama had taken full advantage by making the cut at the Masters following his wins at the Asia Pacific Amateur in 2010 and 2011. Matsuyama played at Amata Springs in 2012 and finished five shots behind Guan in 4th place and not long after would turn professional.
And so it was on the Augusta for the Dongguan (S.E. China) youngster. Practice rounds with Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw did not appear to faze the debutante and so to the event itself where an opening round of 73 was impressive enough given his age (14 year and five months), lack of experience at Augusta National and that many felt his game was nowhere long enough to tackle the regularly extended Augusta National layout.
Guan’s second round of 75 was enough to see him make the cut on the number and although he would go on to finish 56th out of the 61 who made the cut it remains in this writer’s eyes one of the most underrated performances in the history of the game.
He became the youngest ever player to make the cut at the Masters, surpassing the effort of Italy’s Matteo Manassero who at the age of 16 years and 11 months became the then youngest person to make the cut at the 2010 Masters.
That he was able to do so despite being penalised one shot for slow play during his second round further highlights what a magnificent achievement it was that week. I had written a piece on him just prior to the event highlighting my concern for his pedestrian approach to preparing for a shot and it was no real surprise that his M.O. had come under scrutiny.
He would also make the cut at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic soon after but, since, Guan has experienced a chequered career, finally turning professional in 2020 after some time at the University of Arizona.
In 2020 he qualified for and played events on the China Tour and, importantly, he is still only 22 with a world of experience behind him and hopefully ahead of him.
His performance at Augusta National more than eight years ago however remains as one that I believe deserves more recognition than it received.