Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old from China, will compete in the 2013 Masters thanks to his victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur. On the heels of a “Morning Drive” poll Monday, we asked GolfChannel.com writers: Why are players getting better at an earlier age?
By RANDALL MELL
Today’s young junior and amateurs are closet pros.
They train like pros now. They have swing coaches with high-tech swing analyzers and video equipment. They have trainers to condition their bodies. They have sports psychologists to condition their minds. Some of these kids have better teams than PGA Tour pros.
They travel junior and amateur circuits like little touring pros. Look at New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who at 14 this year went halfway around the world to win the CN Canadian Women’s Open, becoming the youngest winner of an LPGA event. These gifted young juniors are traveling the planet seeking top competition.
While there are many factors in the rise of young stars, the fact that they’re approaching the game like professionals in every way but earning prize money is the largest factor in their increasing success.
By RYAN LAVNER
Let’s give some credit to the American Junior Golf Association.
Ever been to one of its tournaments? It’s practically a PGA Tour event, only with more parents and pimples. Volunteers on every hole. Leaderboards scattered throughout the course. Pace-of-play enforcers. These junior players undergo media training. They are required to write thank-you notes to sponsors after they sign scorecards. They compete at Innisbrook and Grayhawk and Mission Hills and Bay Hill. They play big-time golf, from ages 12-18.
Let’s give some credit to college golf programs.
Ever seen an elite team’s season schedule? It’s practically ripped off the Tour’s website. This season, defending NCAA champion Texas will play at Isleworth, Cypress Point, Redstone, Prairie Dunes and Capital City Club. Mini-tour grinders and Web.com regulars are worse off than today’s college players, one of the many reasons they largely opted to stay in school this year and not pursue Q-School.
Why are so many young players making a splash on the professional stage? Simple: They’re not intimidated, having already learned what to expect from an early age.
By REX HOGGARD
Coaching, be it from a “name” instructor with a PGA Tour pedigree or a club professional with a nurturing junior program, is the single most important factor behind the wave of teen sensations that are quickly becoming the norm at golf’s highest levels.
Fourteen-year-old Tianlang Guan’s victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur on Sunday is just the most recent prodigy breakthrough, and his Masters invitation is sure to keep the industry buzzing throughout next spring. But the foundation for that triumph was set in motion years ago when he began honing an action that may not be powerful but was certainly consistent enough at Amata Springs Country Club in Thailand.
And we’ve seen this before.
At June’s U.S. Open Andy Zhang was the first Chinese 14-year-old to rattle the game’s foundation when he became the youngest participant in the national championship.
For Zhang his rise was a direct result of his parents' decision to stay in the United States after a trip to the U.S. Kids World Championship in 2008. At the time Zhang asked his parents to stay in America because he liked the golf courses, but it was his ability to receive regular expert instruction that lifted him to phenom status.
And why 14 is becoming the new 24 in golf.