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Guan’s collapse in HK reminds us he is still human after stellar year

Global Times (2013-12-09 P22)
By Mark Dreyer
For the opening 13 holes of last week's Hong Kong Open, 15-year-old Chinese golfing prodigy Guan Tianlang was on top of the world.

Guan, you may remember, became the youngest golfer ever to make the cut in a major championship while competing in the Masters in April, and followed up that by making the cut in another PGA Tour event, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

Starting from the 11th tee in Hong Kong, Guan picked up five birdies through 13 holes to lead the field, but then something happened. Three consecutive bogeys and a triple-bogey at his penultimate hole saw him card a one-over-par 71, and a 75 on Friday saw Guan miss the cut by five shots.

Perhaps he got nervous, perhaps he played badly, perhaps his age ­simply caught up with him. But after his ­heroics in 2013, during which he also got the better of both Tiger Woods and Rory ­McIlory in a skills competition in ­Hainan six weeks ago, Guan will ­forever be judged by standards far higher than can reasonably be placed on one so young.

Guan beat 10 major winners and ­another 12 PGA Tour winners at ­Augusta eight months ago, and the field at the Hong Kong Open, which in recent years has struggled to attract top-level ­sponsors and players, would not have worried Guan.

Two-time major winner John Daly - and Guan's playing partner last week - said he was impressed with the youngster, though that was partly to do with Daly's admission that he was drinking 12 packs of beer at the age of 15, not setting records on the golf course.

The fear for Guan now comes from the old expression: Early ripe, often rotten. There are countless stories of burned-out teens scattered throughout the sports world, and a cursory look through the junior record books shows that those who shine early rarely make it as professionals.

Guan appears to be grounded, ­largely keeping out of the spotlight after a month-long tour of the professional ­circuit in the US last spring, but his body is still several years shy of being able to cope physically with competing professionally on a regular basis.

It will be fascinating to see how Guan develops. After a stellar year, he now needs time to mature, but given that he is no longer the new kid on the block, that's a luxury he won't be afforded by the media and its unforgiving glare.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.
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