Allow me to be your advanced tour guide around Augusta National Golf Club, oh, about 155 days from now, as the venerable institution prepares to host the 77th edition of The Masters Tournament.
That sound you’ll hear is the supercharged engine of the General Lee, followed by the irrepressible Dixie air horn, as defending champion Bubba Watson cruises his way down Magnolia Lane with a contingent from Waffle House in tow to present the Champions Dinner.
Those two women walking the course in green jackets will be Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, the first female members of the club, their mere presence signifying a new era on these grounds.
And that kid drawing everyone’s attention, the one tipping the scales at a buck twenty-five with a thin layer of peachfuzz atop his upper lip, well, that’s Tianlang Guan, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion who’ll tee it up that week at the ripe old age of 14.
The powers-that-be at Augusta National won’t condone any analogy to a three-ring circus, but about the only thing this place will be missing is Al Czervik asking if somebody stepped on a duck.
Next year’s Masters will skip evolution and go straight to revolution. Or maybe the Mayans were just off by a few months.
It’s safe to say Clifford Roberts didn’t have any of this in mind decades ago. He never envisioned a champion named Bubba who owns the Dukes of Hazzard car, never foresaw women being members of the club, never anticipated a 14-year-old competing in his world-class invitational.
Which of those developments was least likely? That’s a question undoubtedly sparking some lively debate in 19th holes around the world right now.
Give me the kid. I mean, let’s think about this: A 14-year-old from China who is barely taller than his belly putter now has an invitation to hang in the Crow’s Nest. Sure, other kids his age have gotten into the Masters, but only with free admission if accompanied by an adult badge holder.
Now they’ll have to get their tickets to the Guan Show.
Guan will be on the inside of the ropes, competing in the world’s most famous golf tournament alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood, each of whom was a top-20 player when Guan was born on Oct. 25, 1998, and remains inside that ranking today.
He’ll be the youngest competitor in tournament history, surpassing Matteo Manassero’s mark by more than two years. He’ll be a month younger than fellow Chinese wunderkind Andy Zhang was when he competed in this year’s U.S. Open.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised, though. After all, Beethoven held his first public performance at age 7. Picasso painted “Picador” at age 8. And a guy named Michael Kearney is in the Guinness Book of World Records for graduating college at age 10.
By those standards, Guan has some serious catching up to do.
His success – and that of so many other young players recently – can be explained by a variety of factors from technological advancements to increased coaching methodology to treating amateur golf with the mindset of a professional.
One factor which shouldn’t be overlooked is the Tiger Effect. For years, we’ve been waiting for a direct impact of Woods’ success on the game’s most elite level and now we’re witnessing it.
Need proof? Guan first started playing the game when he was 4 years old, which was not too terribly long after Woods claimed his so-called Tiger Slam, hoisting all four major championship trophies onto his mantel at the same time. The teenager has met his golfing hero twice, playing a hole with him each time – and obviously using those meetings as motivation in his own endeavors.
“I think he has a strong mind and strong heart,” Guan explained, “so I think that's why he's so great.”
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, up-and-coming golfers may be speaking of Guan in the same reverential tones. He’s an impressive youngster – and that’s not just a commendation of his golf game. For a 14-year-old who speaks English as a second language, he’s not only fluent, but eloquent, purporting intellect that makes him wise beyond his years.
When asked how much pride he feels about becoming the youngest Masters competitor ever, he acknowledges that sentiment, but claims it’s about much more than himself.
“I think it really helps Chinese golf and the Chinese golfers,” he said. “They will maybe train even harder and get more people that know about that.”
Of course, let’s not forget that he is just 14 years old. Like any 14-year-old, he took to Twitter to boast of his most recent accomplishment, even tweeting: “I want to win the US Masters at Augusta.”
Hey, who doesn’t? But you’ve got to be in it to win it, and Guan has already accomplished the first part of that equation.
It’s all part of a changing scene at Augusta National, one that will possess a much different feel some 155 days from now.