Chinese golf prodigy dreams of legendary 'grand slam'
HONG KONG (AFP) –
China’s 14-year-old prodigy Guan Tianlang has set his sights sky-high by aiming to become the first player to claim golf’s legendary ‘grand slam’: winning all four majors in the same year.
Guan will next month become the youngest golfer to compete in the US Masters — the first of the season’s most prestigious tournaments — when he tees off at Augusta National aged just 14 years, five months and 17 days.
And the Guangzhou schoolboy, who will smash the record set by Italy’s Matteo Manassero in 2010 when he was aged just 16, told AFP that he hopes the Masters will just be the starting-point.
“I have a dream since I was a little boy,” Guan said in an exclusive interview. “I wish, one day, I can win all four majors in one year.”
Such an achievement would eclipse even Guan’s idol, the 14-time major-winner Tiger Woods, who won all four of golf’s major championships consecutively, but not in the same calendar year, from the US Open in 2000 to the Masters in 2001.
Guan will rub shoulders with Woods at the Masters, and he may come up against his hero again at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when golf will make its return to the Games.
“It is every athlete’s dream to represent their home country to compete at the Olympics,” Guan said.
“It will be the greatest honour to me if I can represent China to play at the 2016 Olympics and I will definitely keep working hard on it.”
Guan, who regularly trains in the United States, started playing golf at the age of four and is already a record-breaker.
Last April, he became the youngest player to take part in a European Tour event at the Volvo China Open in Tianjin at the age of 13 years and 177 days.
Seven months later he qualified for the Masters — and gave himself a shot at claiming the coveted green jacket — by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand by just one stroke.
He held his nerve to hole a tricky five-foot putt on the last hole to record a 15-under-par total at the Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok, pipping Pan Cheng-Tsung of Taiwan.
He insists he’s not worried about making the cut at the Masters, something Manassero achieved three years ago, and just wants to enjoy his debut foray into the majors.
“It’s an honour for me to be able to play with the best golfers in the world,” Guan said in the email interview.
“To me, the only goal is to enjoy the event and give my best. And of course, if I can make the cut, that would be even better.”
The length of the par-72 Augusta course, at 7,435 yards, is likely to pose problems for the player who admits there are several areas of his game he needs to improve, particularly his power.
“There are many parts I need to improve including the distance, the accuracy of the long irons and fairway woods, as well as my short game. I will work on all of them and hope to play better,” he said.
Guan said he gets up at 6:30 am and practises for two hours every day after school. He admitted it’s difficult juggling all his commitments, but still finds time for friends.
“It takes a lot of effort to balance school work with golf and I think I have done a pretty good job so far. If I need to play at a tournament, I will listen to recordings of the lessons on the way,” Guan said.
He added: “If I have any free time, I love playing basketball with my friends.”
Guan said he’s undecided about whether he will follow the US college route into the paid ranks, or simply turn professional as a teenager. But he’s determined to stay a “normal kid” and finish school in China.
“I have spent summers practising, learning and also participating in golf events in the US since I was six years old,” he said. “I have been to both the West and the East and those experiences helped me a lot.
“I believe if I live in the US one day, I will be very comfortable as the country is not strange to me at all. But for now, I will stay in China, live as a normal kid and finish my school.”
Despite being one of the great hopes of Chinese golf, Guan also insisted he doesn’t feel the burden of being a torch-carrier, insisting there are “many good golfers” in the country where the game is developing “very fast”.
“I just want to do my best to pursue my dreams and enjoy golf,” he said.
Last year, Guan’s Florida-based compatriot Andy Zhang became the youngest golfer to play the US Open, also at 14, when he took the place of the injured Paul Casey.
No player has achieved the modern-era grand slam but in pre-Masters 1930, Bobby Jones won Britain’s Open and Amateur titles, and was also crowned US Open and Amateur champion — then considered the four biggest prizes in golf.