AUGUSTA, Ga. Remember what it was like to be 14 years old, standing on the corner of awkward and awesome?
Breaking out and breaking up were huge issues, usually more important than homework and cleaning your room.
Then there's Chinese 14-year-old Tianlang Guan.
He has a 12:24 p.m. tee time Thursday with 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw and 19-year-old Matteo Manassero in the first round of the Masters, taking the notion of precociousness to a new level in golf.
“When I was 14, I was trying to play more tournaments. I was running track and cross country, trying to get homework done,” said Tiger Woods, a prodigy himself.
“He's not in high school yet.”
But Guan is in the Masters.
Guan, who became the youngest player to qualify for a major championship when he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last year, took it on himself to text Jack Nicklaus' media representative to ask for a sit-down session with the six-time Masters champion at Augusta. It impressed Nicklaus, who carved out time to talk with Guan, who is younger than some of the Golden Bear's grandchildren.
“I don't have many 14 year olds that have come to me for golf advice,” Nicklaus said.
But like Bobby Jones did for Nicklaus years ago, he will do for Guan.
To state the obvious, Guan is not your typical 14-year-old. He's been in Georgia for three weeks, taking advantage of the opportunity to play multiple practice rounds at Augusta National.
He isn't bashful. He sought out Crenshaw and played a Monday morning practice round with him. That afternoon, he went out with Woods and Dustin Johnson. On Tuesday, he played with Tom Watson and he arranged to play the Wednesday hit-and-giggle, par-3 event with Nick Faldo.
Guan doesn't need to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame. He's played with it already this week.
The question – beyond does Guan have a girlfriend and how much homework does he have between rounds – is whether he can make the 36-hole cut this week.
It's not likely.
Augusta National is a big golf course and Guan's game isn't built on power. He hangs just 135 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame and he can't bomb the ball like so many of the guys he's playing against this week. In his practice round with Woods and Johnson, two guys who can go supersonic, Guan was routinely out-driven by 75 yards. He has a flat swing, wrapping his backswing low behind him, but he's uncommonly accurate. Put a hybrid in his hand and it's like handing Phil Mickelson a wedge. Guan figures he'll have 190 yards into the par-4 first hole and probably 220 into the par-4 11th. No big deal to him.
“I would say I'm not long enough, but I think I'm still all right on this golf course,' Guan said. “Not really a serious problem.”
You know how self-conscious teenagers can be. Not Guan, who isn't afraid to wear pants the color of a fluorescent margarita.
“I think it's going to be a little pressure on me, but I'm not going to push myself too hard. I'm going to enjoy the game,” he said.
That's what Crenshaw, the gentle soul of modern golf, advised him. Take it all in. Have fun.
Guan is young enough that if he doesn't qualify for the Masters next year, he can try to get to Augusta National next April as one of the finalists in the newly announced Drive, Chip & Putt competition open to youngsters ages 7 to 15.
Rory McIlroy, who at 23 seems a middle-aged man compared to Guan, shook his head when asked about the idea of a 14-year-old playing in the Masters. McIlroy remembers playing junior tournaments in Germany when he was that age and the fact he debuted at Augusta as a 19-year-old seems quaint now.
“He could potentially play 60 Masters,” McIlroy said. “It's incredible. A great accomplishment.”
One for the ages, so to speak.
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