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Golf: Looking like old pro, 14-year-old opens with 73

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:17 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
Guan Tianlang celebrates after the 14-year-old's birdie putt on the 18th green during the first round of the Masters on Thursday in Augusta, Ga. He shot a 1-over 73 and is tied for 46th.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Guan Tianlang put off his homework for a few hours, grabbed the snack his mom had made and went out to play with his friends.

His playground was Augusta National, and the world tuned in to watch the 14-year-old from China, the youngest player ever to tee it up at the Masters and youngest at any major in 148 years.

That’s some play date.

“I felt a little bit nervous on the first tee,” Guan said. “But I hit a great tee shot and, after that, everything feels comfortable. I just had fun today. Pretty much fun.”

Played great, too.

Guan made a 15-footer from off the fringe to birdie his final hole Thursday, finishing with a 1-over 73. As the ball rolled into the cup, the crowd around 18 gave the teenager a standing ovation, with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw leading the cheers for his young playing partner.

Play like this again today, and he’s got a shot at making the cut.

“I’m telling you, he played like a veteran today,” Crenshaw said. “Played a beautiful round of golf. He stays well within himself. He’s very confident and, obviously, beautiful hands. His thought process never got rushed. Very patient. Very, very impressive.”

About the only person who didn’t seem impressed with Guan was Guan himself. He strode onto the first tee with confidence, shaking hands with Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, who, 3 years ago, at 16, became the youngest person to make the cut at Augusta National, and their caddies.

He gave a long look down the fairway before taking a few warm-up swings, then stepped up to the tee and let it rip.

At 5-foot-9 and about 150 pounds, he doesn’t hit it anywhere close to the big guys. But he rarely strayed from the fairway, and his short game more than makes up for what he lacks in length.

He got his first birdie on No. 3, chipping to about 12 feet past the hole and rolling it in. After his drive on the long par-4 No. 5 sailed far right, he recovered with a nice shot to just below the green, then chipped within 3 feet.

If Guan was nervous, he never let it show. Didn’t show any emotions, really. There were occasional smiles, a fist pump when he rolled a putt in for a birdie, a polite touch of his cap to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.

“People were very nice to me,” he said. “And I feel comfortable on the course.”

If he ever got overwhelmed, Guan knew his parents were nearby.

After having breakfast with their only child – potatoes, beef, rice, vegetables and stir-fried eggs – Hong Yu and Han Wen followed him for the entire round, joined by several family friends. But unlike the parents of some other young stars, they didn’t seem overbearing or caught up in their son’s results.

After Guan’s second shot on the first hole, while everyone else followed the flight of the ball, Han Wen watched his son, breathing a sigh of relief when the youngster nodded in satisfaction. He clapped enthusiastically after every shot – his son’s and those of his playing partners.

Asked if his son would turn professional soon, Han Wen answered with an emphatic no.

“Not for a long time, maybe,” Han Wen said. “Amateurs have fun. Enjoy it.”

Guan is wise enough to know he’s not going to contend at the Masters.

Not this year, at least.

“But I think I can win in the future,” he said, flashing a smile.

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