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Opinion & Analysis

14-year-old qualifies for the 2013 Masters

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By Dennis de Jesus Jr.

GolfWRX Contributor

By now you’ve heard about Guan Tianglang, the teenage golfer from China who captured the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand last weekend to earn a spot in the 2013 Masters tournament in Augusta.

At the age of 14, Tianglang will enter the highly anticipated major tournament as the youngest player in its seventy-seven year history.  For many of us non-professional golfers it is merely a pipe dream to even have the opportunity to set foot on the hallowed course of Augusta National, yet here is a 14-year-old kid from the other side of the world who isn’t eligible to watch “The Expendables” but is eligible to not only visit the famed course, but to play on it for a chance to compete for golf’s most recognizable blazer.

I think it would be easy to argue that if you were an actual tour player earning your stripes week after week, competing with the best golfers in the world and not being able to play your way into the Masters would be an example of a disappointing career.  After all, like a young athlete who dreams of winning the major championship of their chosen sport, an amateur golfer dreams of putting out on No. 18 at Augusta National and winning the green jacket. It is the pinnacle of the sport — like the Stanley Cup, the World Series or the Super Bowl. Ask any retired professional athlete who didn’t achieve the ultimate goal – it’s often one of their biggest regrets.

So how would it feel if this kid who is barely through puberty and weighs as much as a tour bag soaking wet wins his way into the big show on the merits of only one amateur tournament, doing so against a field of amateurs who are hungry and talented, but definitely not the best players in the world? If I was a tour player who is busting my tail every week against the likes of Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson and not able to crack the strict eligibility of the Masters, I may be pretty upset to see that my spot is perceivably taken by a player who doesn’t have the experience I’ve earned or even holds a driver’s license.

But look at it differently and perhaps the picture becomes a little rosier.  I would argue that having Tianglang at next years Masters is nothing but a positive. Although he may be just another amateur champion who has earned the right to compete in one of golf’s greatest stages, his story will undoubtedly be closely followed and much talked about from now until his last putt on the 18th hole, whether he makes the cut for the weekend or not.  The exposure he brings by being the youngest player ever coupled with the attraction of potentially being Asia’s next big athlete is a media magnet on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps even worldwide.  It is exposure that the sport isn’t desperate for, but it doesn’t hurt either.

Golf is growing globally, but more specifically in Asia, and having an overseas talent with the notoriety of being born in 1999 at Augusta can only help the growth of the game internationally for both the young and old.

Nowhere is this growth more evident than in China, where it is projected that there will be 20 million golfers by 2020, up from the roughly 1 million that currently participate. That’s not just a casual interest in the game; it’s an explosion of interest in the world’s most populated country. It is then no surprise that more and more big purse tournaments are being hosted in China, while at the same time golf courses are springing up seemingly quicker than a Starbucks franchise (if you want a sense of scale of the Chinese interest in golf, look up “Mission Hills” and then pick up your jaw afterward).

All this interest plus tangible proof that young golfers excelling at the game only adds fuel to the fire that China is serious about golf and is where future growth of the game is headed.  Don’t discount the idea that a golfer from China may become No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings in our lifetime.

As for the youth movement, it is an incredible achievement to win an amateur tournament, let alone at the age of 14. At 14, I was busy chasing girls and questioning how cool I would look with a cigarette. My dad was already playing golf and as much as he tried to convince me to play, my thought was that golf was a game not a sport, and more reserved for the old folks with weak knees and backs who would announce with a groan every time they stand or sit from a chair.  Back then, I would never touch a golf club because that didn’t help my cool factor nor could I relate to someone that piqued my interest at that age. Really, before Tiger Woods came on the scene, how could I teenager compare Michael Jordan to Fred Couples?

Tianglang will make golf cool for people his age and those younger than him.  His stardom, even if short term, will likely be enough to expose the sport to a generation of Chinese golfers who haven’t picked up a club and may inspire them to do so in the future. Couple that with the powerful funding support that the government is providing, the future and growth of the sport in China will be attributed to the success and exposure of already established golf superstars like Tiger and Rory and now upcoming talent like Guan Tianglang, who is already a winner no matter how he fares at Augusta.

So what does it all mean for the current PGA Tour player who is still trying to win his way into the Masters? It is simple. This squeaky voiced kid from China, who hasn’t yet developed the frame of a prototypical athlete, is no different from any other amateur who won and earned their way into the tournament.  But what sets Guan Tianglang apart from other amateurs competing in Augusta is having the novelty of being the youngest ever who also just happens to be from the very country that will be integral to grow the sport exponentially in the future.

This translates to more exposure, more sponsorship and more prize money for golfers now and in the future.  For the ineligible tour player, the dream of playing in the Masters may be delayed by another year but hard work and determination will still be the main objective for making it in 2014.  In the meantime, they should enjoy the fanfare, take advantage of the lucrative sponsorships (both direct and indirect) and thank this pimply-faced kid for elevating the sport to another level of public interest. If that’s a bad thing for golfers who pursue this sport as their profession, I don’t think they’re seeing the bigger picture.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Dennis lives in Calgary, Canada where golf is available (at best) six months of the year. The other six months are spent understanding the nuances of the game that make it so addicting and wonderfully frustrating. In a perfect world, Dennis would take his set of G10s and his D300S to travel the world playing and photographing the beautiful, unique landcapes of the golf world. For now, he sits at a desk and is developing an eight-layer golf ball simply called "The Tour Ocho."

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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