Today's teacher is Mr Watson
Updated: 2013-04-11 07:21
By Garrett Johnston in Augusta, Georgia (China Daily)
China's Guan Tianlang, 14, plays practice round with legend
Chinese golf prodigy Guan Tianlang teed off with two-time US Masters champion Tom Watson for a practice round at Augusta National on Tuesday.
Watson had first met Guan at the Australian Open last December in Melbourne. It was there that Watson first had the idea of playing a practice round with Guan at the famous course.
"He was just introduced to me and I said, 'I know you're playing Augusta' and I congratulated him for playing and winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur," Watson said. "I just invited him to play in the practice (with me)."
The odd pairing highlights the uniqueness of the game of golf.
How often can a 63-year-old and a 14-year-old compete against each other on one of the biggest stages of a sport?
After playing with Guan, Watson admitted that distance may be a challenge for him on a long course such as Augusta, but he believes Guan has a good foundation to his swing.
"He is 14 years old and he's going to grow into his golf swing and hit the ball a lot farther," Watson said. "He's got good fundamentals and that's the important thing."
Guan's accuracy with his hybrid club certainly came into play on some of Augusta's longer holes on Tuesday. On the 495-yard 10th hole, Guan hit his hybrid from just more than 200 yards to within five feet of the flag. On the finishing par-4 18th hole, Guan hit his hybrid to eight feet from the pin.
However, not every shot was as pure as could be.
On the ninth hole of their practice round, a 460-yard par-4, Guan hit a drive left of the fairway that hit a patron square in the right shoulder on the fly.
When Guan reached the ball, he graciously shook the hand of John Fell, the man whom he hit, and signed a Masters flag Fell had with him.
Fell and a number of his friends from Illinois have come out to the Masters for 15 years. Never had any been hit, until Tuesday.
"I'm OK with it," Fell said with a laugh. "I'm honored to be hit by the youngest player ever to play in the Masters."
World No 2 Rory McIlroy has also taken notice of Guan. They met briefly on Tuesday as McIlroy headed to his media conference.
"It's just going to be such a great experience for him," McIlroy said. "If I had any advice for him it would be, just enjoy it. You're playing in the Masters at 14; I mean, he could potentially play ... I don't know, 60 Masters?"
During Guan's practice round, Watson offered him some sound advice on preparing for the course.
"I told him to play as many practice rounds, spend as much time on the course, get the best caddie he possibly can and get to know the golf course," Watson said.
Guan has already found an Augusta caddie, Brian Tam, to give him as much local knowledge as possible.
Beyond the advice, Watson already has noticed and appreciates Guan's approach to the game.
"He's got a serious attitude which is good," Watson said. "I like the attitude. He's here to do his absolute best and play in the Masters ... It's a very special event obviously."
Playing on Tuesday with Guan allowed Watson to reminisce about being only 15 when he first played golf with Arnold Palmer and only 16 the first time he teed off with Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus, the six-time Masters winner, plans on meeting Guan this week to impart advice as the teen takes on this unprecedented challenge.
Although Nicklaus hasn't seen Guan play, he has already placed their meeting in a historical context.
"I will be a little bit like what (Bobby) Jones was to me," Nicklaus said of his meeting with another of golf's all-time greats. "I'll give him whatever he wants and whatever he wants imparted and how I can help him. I'm happy to do that."
In the meantime, Guan will play in the annual par-3 contest with three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo on Wednesday as Guan's priceless experiences continue, seemingly by the minute, during this magical week at Augusta.
(China Daily 04/11/2013 page23)