Next year when The Masters rolls around in April there will be an added area of interest after 14-year-old Chinese golfer Tianlang Guan won his place in the field with victory in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
The championship was created three years ago to provide a big stage for a continent where golf was undergoing rapid growth. Now the tournament has produced history.
Guan will be 14 years, five months and 17 days when he tees it up at Augusta National, making him the youngest ever participant in the major’s history. The previous record was established by Matteo Manassero in 2010, when the 16-year-old earned an invitation after winning the British Amateur Championship in 2009.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur has offered a spot at The Masters and at Open Championship Final International Qualifying to its winner since its inception in 2009.
This decision was made to try and inspire young Asian golfers and it certainly seems to have worked. Guan is the first championship winner from China, but will become the second 14-year-old from China to appear in a major after Andy Zhang qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open.
Guan claimed the one-shot victory over Chinese Taipei’s Cheng-Tsung Pan, the world’s number 12 amateur. Guan finished at 15-under after rounds of 66, 64, 72 and 71 at Amata Spring Country Club in Bangkok, Thailand.
The youngster led from the first round, including a five shot advantage at the halfway point and two shots heading into the final round. “I’m so excited. I’m really happy to become the youngest player at the Masters and looking forward to going there. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I know I just want to do well,” Guan said after holing a five-foot par putt for the win.
Australia’s Oliver Goss finished third, three shots back, after a final-round 72. Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the past two Asia-Pacific Amateurs and low amateur at The Masters in 2011, finished fourth at 10-under.
Guan averages about 250-yards per tee shot but his small stature hasn’t stopped him from breaking records. He was the youngest winner of the China Amateur Open last year, while his appearance in this year’s China Open made him the youngest player to ever compete on the European Tour.
He took a five shot lead in his final round with birdies at the 2nd and 4th, but it was cut to just one after a bogey on 16. “I had a great up and down on the last hole. I was a little bit nervous over the putt,” Guan said.
Pan put pressure on Guan with a sensational last round, fighting back from an opening 75 with rounds of 67, 67 and 65. It included birdies at the 1st and had a hat-trick of birdies from the 4th to 6th. A bogey at the 9th halted his progress momentarily, before more birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th. Pan was level for the last five holes, leaving him one short of stopping history.