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Masters identifies a rare 14-year-old

ESPN staff
November 7, 2012
Guan Tianlang is set to make history at next year's Masters Tournament © Getty Images
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You cannot say Chinese youngster Guan Tianlang lacks ambition.

"I want to win the US Masters at Augusta," he tweeted on Sunday.

Like any other teenager, the 14-year-old's social media proclamation would be taken with a pinch of salt - were it not for the fact that he has already qualified for the 2013 iteration of the invitation-only event.

Guan claimed victory in the Asia Amateur Trophy on Sunday, an event that carries with it the extra reward of an automatic invite to the first major of the year, the fabled Masters at Augusta National Country Club.

The members at Augusta who first arranged the Asian tournament, and extended the incentive of an invite, perhaps never conceived that the tournament would one day be won by a man barely out of his teenage years - never mind a boy barely entering them.

Immediately, questions were asked on the other side of the Atlantic about Guan's ability to compete at the major event. What does it say about the integrity and prestige of the tournament, if a teenage boy can make it into the field and shoot two rounds in the 80s? Guan has some professional tournament experience, after all, and it hardly went that well.

At this year's Volvo China Open, Guan made history as the youngest player in European Tour history - but shot rounds of 77 and 79 to finish 150th in the 156-man field. Considering he hit his driver less than 250 yards and hit fairway metals into almost every green, it's not a stretch to think that Augusta National (all 7,425 yards of it) might prove too difficult for him.

On the other hand, the Asia Amateur is clearly not the low-level event one might expect. Hideki Matsuyama won the event in each of the last two years - the Japanese went on to make the cut in both his appearances at Augusta, finishing inside the top 30 in 2012. Clearly, Matsuyama is a youngster with a very bright future ahead of him.

Matsuyama was in the field once again last week, but even he had no match for Guan - who led from start-to-finish to book his date with history.

"I'm so excited," Guan said afterwards - a few hours before his Twitter declaration. "I'm really happy to become the youngest player at the Masters and looking forward to going there.

"I don't know what's going to happen there, but I know I just want to do well.''

2012 has seen young amateur players make an impact on the game - most notably at the US Open, where 14-year-old Andy Zhang made the field and 17-year-old Beau Hossler contended up until the final nine holes of the competition. Age no longer seems to be a barrier to success in golf, so it would be wrong to suggest Guan might not be able to survive at Augusta.

If his short game is sharp, embarrassment is far from guaranteed. The only thing that is guaranteed is his place in the field - and that he has earned.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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