AUGUSTA — There he was, Tianlang Guan charming Augusta National as his mom followed along under the pines with extra juice and snacks for her busy 14-year-old.
Soon after, the poor kid looked like he’d been told to repaint the fence.
It all happened so quickly Friday, the drawn out slow-play flap.
The youngest player in Masters history survived a stodgy 1-stroke penalty on the 17th hole and made the cut.
The best story of the tournament almost turned into an international incident. Maybe this is why Condi Rice is a new member.
“I respect the decision they made,” said Guan, who speaks good English. “I think they should do it; it’s fair to everyone.”
It was not a ridiculous decision; no one likes slow play. And Guan played, uh, deliberately on his way to a 75.
But it was a terrible spot in golf’s time/space continuum for rigid enforcement.
Tiger Woods was a man among boys when he won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997.
Guan is a boy among men, in the most wonderful way.
Guan is 14, a target age for golf’s game-growing effort.
He’s from China; billions of golf opportunities beckon.
And the enforcer was right out of central casting, John Paramor, a large European Tour chief referee with over 35 years of experience and a thick British accent.
“No, it’s the Masters” Paramor said (slowly), “the Masters competition.”
Paramor said he warned Guan five times about slow play; Guan said it was once. Guan blamed the wind for his frequent need to change clubs.
Masters rules allow for 40 seconds to play a stroke.
“In keeping with the applicable rules,” said Masters Competition Committees Chairman Fred Ridley, “he was penalized following his second shot on the 17th hole when he exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin.”
Otherwise, it’s been a nice spring break for Guan. Though he qualified by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, no one realistically expected much here.
Instead, the eighth grader brought homework from his middle school and shot 73 on Thursday.
Kids peeked between grown-ups on their tiptoes to watch the 14-year-old take on Amen Corner. Guan made a tightrope bump-and-run to set up a par-saving putt on the par 4 No. 11 hole.
The kid (aka “The Kid”) certainly isn’t shy. He wore a bright orange shirt Friday (decorated with a small Chinese flag on the chest) and light plaid pants.
Tim Bourret, Clemson’s longtime sports information director, was on hand to follow Lucas Glover, the former Tiger and 2009 U.S. Open champion. Bourret also wore an orange shirt.
“I can’t write about Guan in my Masters blog,” Bourret said. “It would be an NCAA violation.”
14U playing up
Guan at 5-8, 140, isn’t the longest driver at the Masters.
Then again, not many other guys in the tournament will grow out of their golf shoes by next April.
Usually, “playing up” for a middle schooler means a 14-year-old boldly bumping up to 15U soccer, baseball or lacrosse. Guan was outplaying PGA Tour vets a few decades older.
Unfazed, he almost chipped in on No. 1 on Friday.
What a tale.
Who else has as many clubs in the bag as years on earth?
Playing partner Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champ, said he “felt sick” for Guan after the penalty.
“When you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot,” Crenshaw said.
Paramor broke the 1-stroke news to Guan’s parents after they noticed an odd scoreboard change on the 18th hole. It was a short explanation.
“Nothing really,” Paramor said. “Just, ‘It’s happened.’”
Any regrets about zapping a 14-year-old?
“I feel that every time I go out, that’s my job,” Paramor said. “That’s what I do.”
Guan said he would be “grateful” to make the cut.
He maintained a childlike spirit, penalty and all.
“I think it’s still a great week for me,” Guan said. “I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot.”