13-year-old makes history at China Open
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Mature beyond his years, in fashion terms.

Chinese amateur Guan Tian-lang golfed his way into the record books at the Volvo China Open this morning, shooting 77 en route to becoming the youngest player ever to compete in a European Tour event.

At the tender age of 13 years and 173 days, the teenager assumed the record from compatriot Lo Shik-kai, three months older in making his debut at the 2003 Honk Kong Open.

Initially overawed by the occasion, Guan reached the turn in five-over-par, having carded four bogeys and a double in relatively quick succession. The closing nine would prove less eventful, however; nine consecutive pars proved sufficient for a relatively respectable share of 150th place.

Though clearly in command of a prodigious talent, the 13-year-old’s presence in the field has led many to question the responsibility of tournament organisers and the nature of their relationship with local political lobbyists.

Oliver Brown, writing in the Daily Telegraph, summarised the criticisms succcinctly:

“The rise of Guan, though, proceeds at dizzying pace. Not content with being the youngest player ever to compete at a European Tour event, he gravely states his plan to make the cut and is already targeting his major championship breakthrough.

“At first glance, Guan’s inclusion in this week’s 156-man field looks like an example of at best gimmickry and at worst outright gerrymandering: a ploy to solicit greater Chinese interest by throwing in an absurdly young talent far out of his depth. The move helps perpetuate a fallacy that China is poised to monopolise golf to the same degree that it has sports such as diving, even if little could be further from the truth.”

Guan, the current World Junior champion (a title he earned courtesy of an 11-shot victory and nine-under-par opening round of 63), secured his invitation by finishing fourth in a pre-tournament qualifying event. Initially an alternate, he benefitted from the subsequent exemption of a fellow competitor.

Scotland’s Matthew Baldwin (65) currently leads the event by one over six players, including Joost Luiten, Jbe Kruger, Scott Strange and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet.

Conor Nagle