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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm