Guan Tianlang: how young is too young to play the Masters?
By Conor Nagle under Amateur Golf

Guan Tianlang: having a good old sit, in a field.

Chinese amateur Guan Tianlang completed a wire-to-wire victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand yesterday, thus ensuring his early invitation to next year’s Masters Tournament.

Currently just 14 years and 5 months old, Guan looks set to demolish Matteo Manassero’s 2010 record, set when the Italian was 16, and become the youngest competitor in the tournament’s 77-year history.

Masters Chairman Billy Payne and Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, attended the presentation ceremony, following which Guan delivered a bullish statement of intent via Twitter.

Guan, who spends part of the year in Florida, often practicing with compatriot and fellow major championship wunderkind Andy Zhang, will no doubt be familiar to many as the subject of feverish coverage in advance of this year’s Volvo China Open, where he missed the halfway cut by 13 shots.

Though Guan’s qualification can, one some levels, be read as validation of the Masters’ increasingly progressive international strategy — formulated, after all, to avail of the game’s growing popularity among members of the Chinese upper-middle class — a vocal minority, anxious to preserve Augusta National as a playground for the game’s elite (and a load of old codgers), has responded to the news with skepticism:

So, does Guan’s presence in the Masters field threaten the integrity of golf’s most exclusive major?

Oh, before I forget: there’s more catnip for debate. Guan, by all accounts an absolute demon on the greens, is a belly putter devotee!

Conor Nagle