AVONDALE, La. – For another piece of history, Guan Tianlang first needed to navigate the watery, par-3 ninth hole at TPC Louisiana. Over and over he wiped his hands with a towel, rubbing in between his fingers, as he waited to play. His fellow playing competitor had just hooked his tee shot into the water. Guan gulped, then kept wiping.
Up next, the 14-year-old from China grabbed his 23-degree hybrid, imagined the shot he wanted to pull off – a baby, 2-yard draw – and made his normal long and languid swing. Knowing he was hovering near the cut line, Guan simply wanted to find the center of the green on the 179-yard hole. But his tee shot sailed high, with that baby, 2-yard draw, and suddenly it was covering the flagstick, just four paces from the water. When the ball finally settled 25 feet behind the cup, he calmly returned the club to his caddie and smiled.
Afterward, when asked if he was nervous over that decisive tee ball, he shrugged and said, “Not much.”
With another mind-boggling performance on a long (7,425 yards) and soggy course, Guan carded five birdies (and a par on that ninth hole) during a second-round 69 that assured he’d stick around for the weekend at the Zurich Classic. When he finished his round, he was tied for 44th at 3-under 141, which ended up being the cut number. The low 70 and ties advance.
Said Justin Bolli, who was grouped with Guan for the first two rounds: “I mean, he just looked like one of us out there.”
Except, of course, for the chapped lips, the absence of pores or facial hair, the undeveloped body.
At 14 years, 6 months and 1 day, Guan will become the youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event, surpassing the previous modern-day record (Bob Panasik, 1957 Canadian Open) by more than a year.
This, of course, after he became one of the central figures of the Masters, where he was docked a slow-play penalty in the second round and still qualified for the weekend, eventually finishing T-58.
“It’s unreal. He just goes out there like it’s his 15th year (on Tour),” said Henrik Norlander, the third member in Guan’s group. “He doesn’t care. He hits his shots and doesn’t care about the surroundings. I wish I could be like him.”
Not surprisingly, news spread quickly of Guan’s historic achievement.
Tweeted Paul Tesori, caddie for reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson: “Are you kidding me with this 14yr old phenom Guan Tianlang? The course is wet and playing LONG! How is it possible? #hellofutureofgolf”
Wrote swing coach Butch Harmon: “Can you believe 14 year old T. Guan has 69 today to make yet another cut at 141. This is truly an amazing thing. Congrats young man.”
Added Morgan Hoffmann, at 23 no elder statesman himself: “John Peterson and I were talking about it, and I said, ‘I hope (Guan) understands what he’s doing, because everybody out here is following him.’”
Detractors will say that Guan isn’t playing for a paycheck, that he didn’t have anything to lose, that the result would be different if he weren’t playing for fun or the learning experience. Maybe so.
But neither was 10-time major winner Annika Sorenstam, who played the Colonial in 2003. And even one of the best women’s players of all time couldn’t play the weekend at a PGA Tour event. It’s no simple task.
So how could Guan do it – twice, no less?
The teen averaged 262 yards off the tee, but he missed only two fairways Friday.
He hit 11 greens, but took just 25 putts.
For the week, he is 30 of 32 from inside 10 feet, though he did three-jack the 14th hole, something he didn’t do all week at Augusta National.
Two holes later, it should be noted, the kid rebounded with a birdie.
When his tee shot at the long sixth found the water left, he hit a 3-wood to the front edge, then sank a 12-foot bogey putt.
On the par-3 third, which played 234 yards, Guan hit a 3-wood that horseshoed around the cup.
“He just hits it so accurately,” Bolli said. “He hits 3-woods and 5-woods to 10 feet. If you can do that, you can play anywhere.”
Said Norlander, “He’s better off with hybrids and woods than 6-iron because he can hit it so high and they come in so soft. He has unbelievable face control. Nothing is off-line. He can work the ball, too.
“There are a lot of good kids, but the way he handles himself impressed me the most. He could have gone out and shot 80-80 and everyone would think it’s cool anyways. He has nothing to lose. He just goes out and plays his game.”
Guan’s stay in New Orleans already was scheduled to last a little longer, even before this 72-69 start at the Zurich. He will play next month’s U.S. Open local qualifier in Dallas, proving yet again that there must be very accommodating schoolteachers in China.
Now, though, his biggest concern may not be chasing down leader Lucas Glover but what to wear for the final two rounds. On Friday, he wore a green striped Masters shirt and Masters logo cap. He’s been in the States for nearly two months.
Asked if he has enough Masters gear to make it through the weekend, the kid smiled and said, fittingly: “No. They don’t have enough small sizes.”