2013 Masters will be one for the record books

By Ryan LavnerNovember 4, 2012, 3:02 pm

The 2013 Masters figures to be an epic one, no matter the player who eventually slips into the green jacket.

Decked out head-to-toe in Nike, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will begin their pursuit of the year’s first major; Augusta National’s first two female members, in green jackets of their own, will soak up the atmosphere near the first tee; and a 14-year-old from China named Tianlang Guan will become the youngest competitor ever at The Masters.

Ponder that for a moment.

The game’s two biggest stars, now fast friends, budding rivals and company pitchmen.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, female members at Augusta National.

And a 14-year-old bunking in the Crow’s Nest, without a parental permission slip.

Three months ago, could you have imagined those three scenarios?

Accepting female members for the first time in the club’s 80-year history was momentous enough. It was trumpeted by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne as a “joyous occasion,” and rightfully so. It was celebrated in print, as the famed old club had “finally entered the 21st century,” some columnists opined.

But it would surprise little if Guan’s game-changing victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur someday proved even more historic.

On Sunday at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand, Guan earned his spot in the Masters field by edging Cheng-Tsung Pan – a sophomore at Washington and one of the world’s top 15 amateurs – by a stroke. On the final green, Guan sank a 5-foot par putt to seal the victory. In another sign of the times, the clinching putt was holed with a belly putter.

Already tabbed as China’s next golfing prodigy, Guan continues to glide down the path blazed by other Asian stars Ryo Ishikawa (a Japan Tour winner at age 15) and Seung-yul Noh (a European Tour winner at 18). It would be unfair to saddle Guan with such high expectations, of course. (After all, he still weighs only 125 pounds.) But thus far, there remains little doubt that the teen has excelled in his advanced-level coursework.

Last year, at the prestigious Junior World Championship, he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots. (Playing with the big boys this summer – well, the boys ages 15-17, the first time in the event’s 45-year history that someone 13 years old was allowed to play in the oldest division – he finished T-22.) He captured the China Amateur Open, and this past April he became the youngest player ever to compete in a European Tour event. Just 13 at the time, he shot rounds of 77-79 at the China Open and was 14 shots adrift of the cut line.

After that tournament, Guan spent the next four months in the U.S. to train and refine his game. He tried to qualify for the U.S. Open (failed), for the U.S. Amateur Public Links (failed), for the U.S. Amateur (failed). His last competitive event was the World Amateur Team Championship; as a member of Team China, he shot 79-73-74 and finished T-111 individually. His World Amateur Ranking entering this week’s tournament was 490th.

Of course, that background will be rendered a mere footnote to the larger story, to Guan’s ascension to the biggest stage in golf. A Masters berth has been awarded to the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur since the tournament’s inception in 2009, and Guan’s appearance in April is a dream scenario for Augusta National. The Masters is already beamed to more than 200 countries, and Guan is from Guangzhou, China, the third-largest city in the country, with a population of more than 9.5 million. Augusta National’s reach just grew longer still.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Guan said Sunday, “but I know I just want to do well.”

Putting his achievement in the proper historical perspective, consider what a few of the game’s greats accomplished at age 14:

In 1916, Bobby Jones captured the Georgia Amateur and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur.

In 1954, Jack Nicklaus won the Ohio Junior but also was bounced in the first round of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

In 1990, Woods advanced to the semis of the U.S. Junior and became the youngest to win the Insurance Youth Golf Classic.

In 2003, McIlroy became the youngest champion of the Ulster Boys Championship.

A mind-boggling thought, but in 2003, Tianlang Guan was 5 years old. He had begun playing the game a year earlier, alongside his father, Hanwen.

In the next few years, Guan and his family would fly to Shanghai just to watch Woods play in the HSBC Champions, and at age 9 he would break par from the back tees for the first time, and then three years later he would see Woods again, at the 2011 Mission Hills Junior Championship.

Only this time, Woods was handing the winner’s trophy to Guan.

They are sure to cross paths again at Augusta – a 37-year-old legend vying for his 15th major, a 14-year-old amateur with seemingly limitless potential, the same competition and perfectly manicured layout ahead … and two keen observers in Rice and Moore.

Three months ago, could you have imagined that?

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.