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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

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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Opinion & Analysis

What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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Podcasts

TG2: What is this new Callaway iron? A deep investigation…

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Photos of a new Callaway iron popped up in the GolfWRX Forums, and equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what exactly the new iron could be; new Apex pros, new Legacy irons, or maybe even a new X Forged? Also, the guys discuss Phil’s U.S. Open antics and apology, DJ’s driver shaft change, new Srixon drivers and utility irons, and a new Raw iron offering from Wilson. Enjoy the golf equipment packed show!

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

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