Golf interest in China soars
Golf in China is on the rise. The nation’s ever-developing relationship with big business is one factor. The growth of the middle classes another. The return of the sport to the Olympics a third.
Combine the three factors and you have a situation in which China hosts two of the European Tour’s most important (and lucrative) events, last month witnessed the first Chinese home win on the European Tour and, meanwhile, a 16-year-old continues his precocious career amongst the best golfers in the world.
Two years ago Guan Tian Lang, then just 14 years old, not only teed it up at Augusta National in the Masters, he actually made the cut, becoming the youngest player to do so on the PGA Tour.
He had earned his right to play when winning the previous year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
A gob smacked Tiger Woods noted: “It’s frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters. Just frightening.”
Getting old, Tiger. It comes to us all.
Guan, on the other hand, was unfazed.
He talked of how China had its eye on the Olympics and added: "It is every athlete's dream to represent their home country to compete at the Olympics. It will be the greatest honour to me if I can represent China at the 2016 Olympics."
It was not, however, his only dream: "I have a dream since I was a little boy," he said. "I wish, one day, I can win all four majors in one year."
Having made the cut that week he received more invites but missed seven straight cuts over the period of about a year. He largely concentrated on junior golf, aware that his body was still developing.
“All of my game has improved,” he said this week ahead of teeing it up at the AfraAsia Bank Mauritius Open. “My body has changed a lot over the past couple of years and that brings with it changes to the swing, so we have to keep an eye on it.”
In his first start of this year he made the cut in Abu Dhabi and played alongside Rickie Fowler. The American is a poster boy for youthful, hip, fashion conscious golf.
And he was ten years Guan’s senior.
Last month Guan missed the cut in the two Chinese events the European Tour played and he is on track to do so again this week after a first round six-over-par 77. How does he feel his career is currently going?
“I'm in tenth grade now and I've got two more years in high school before I got to college in 2017.”
Will that be in the States, the world's strongest golfing college network?
“Yeah, I'm looking at America. There's no hurry for me to turn professional. I want to gain experience in college and get myself ready. I'll be looking for a college.”
In the ladies game Lydia Ko, who recently turned 18, is the world number one. Sportswomen have tended to mature earlier than sportsmen, but has Guan noted the success of his fellow teen?
“I've seen how well she has done,” he said after his opening round, “but I look to the men's game. Young guys are doing well there too.”
He'll be up against it in round two if he wants to make the cut but he is not giving in. “I putted well, I just made some poor strokes around the greens and two bad yardages.
“There are birdies out there so I'll just have to get them.”
Photo: Lydia Ko by Wojciech Migda