BY STEVEN MUNRO
uan Tianlang is only 16 years old, but keen golf fans will already know of him. In 2013, he became the youngest player in history to make the cut at the Masters (or any major for that matter), at a barely believable 14 years of age. Guan beat Matteo Manassero’s record by almost two years.
Just think for a second how incredible that is. Hitting the ball no further than 240 yards with his driver, Guan made it to the weekend against the best 100 or so golfers on the planet, and he did it while giving up around 60 yards to them on every tee shot. When they were hitting short irons into Augusta’s treacherous greens, he was hitting hybrids.
Clearly this kid has a very bright future, and last month in Abu Dhabi I was fortunate enough to receive a call from Guan’s representative, asking whether I’d be interested in caddying for him on his debut at the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Well, that was one of the more straightforward decisions I’ll ever have to make in golf!
We all know how strong the field is in Abu Dhabi and this year was no different. Five of the world’s top 10 were playing, including numbers one and two, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. But even though Guan is still only 16, I soon found out that he’s already at ease in this company. Still at school and playing a mixture of amateur and professional events, Guan has been groomed to handle the biggest stages in world golf. It would have been totally natural to expect a teenager on his first ever trip to the UAE to be like
golfdigest. com a rabbit caught in headlights. Instead, I met a mature golfer who is among the most meticulous I’ve ever seen and who at 16, isn’t playing nearly as much catch-up off tee.
He’s at the age now where he can work in the gym to strengthen his physique and as a result, is now hitting it around 285 yards off the tee. The National at Abu Dhabi Golf Club is one of the longest courses the guys play all year, but Guan did just fine. I was immediately impressed by him, not just as a golfer but how he went about his business. As you might expect, his work ethic is fantastic. If he’s not plugging away on the range, he’s with the equipment guys, tinkering with this and that and looking to get the absolute maximum out of his clubs.
One thing we saw at the Masters two years ago was what a good short game he has, and it’s fair to say Guan pretty much expects to hole every putt he hits. It was interesting to watch him on the practice green, because his routine is even more meticulous than some of the guys who have been on tour for years. He’ll start off by finding a dead straight putt, then he’ll work his way around the green, looking for every different type of conceivable break and slope. On the course, Guan didn’t hole too many bombs, but he was very good from the 12-15 foot range – better than tour average I would say.
Guan may have been a little nervous on his opening few tee shots, but he didn’t show it. He was completely unfazed when I told him he was playing with Rickie Fowler on Sunday. He’s played with Tiger Woods three times now. Ben Crenshaw, Sandy
february 2015 Lyle. This is nothing new for him.
He handles bad shots well, too. We went through a game plan together and agreed to play to his strengths. After 27 holes, Guan was six under par and only two shots off second place. He eventually carded seven birdies in a 69 to add to his opening 70 and make the cut with three shots to spare.
On Saturday I saw a side of him that impressed me even more. After shooting a disappointing 78 to drop down the board, he got his sharpie out after the round and signed every single autograph in the line. You would’ve thought he shot 68, not 78. I think a lot of tour pros could learn from that.
When all was said and done, Guan posted rounds of 70, 69, 78 and 72 to finish in 70th place. At 16, he can already mix it with the world’s best, but he’s in no rush to turn pro. Currently at school in China, he may or may not go to university. I think he’s just going with the flow.
There’s no doubt Guan has the potential to be a big global star. We’re waiting for the first big star to come out of China, and it’s going to happen quite soon. When it does, just imagine how massive it will be. A Chinese major winner has the potential to change the face of golf.
We know what’s coming when Guan does turn pro. For now, he’s quite a mechanical type of player, like a Bernhard Langer type of golfer. When he gets a bit stronger and more explosive, and he gains some more distance, who knows what kind of player we’ll have on our hands then. For his amateur golfing peers at least, it’s a scary thought! Steven Munro is the CEO of the UAE PGA, and captained the professionals in the 2014 Dubai Golf Trophy
Guan Tianlang and Steven Munro sizing up the National course
when he made the cut at the