Just let Guan play golf

Updated: 2013-04-28 10:21

By Dusty Lane (China Daily)

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OK, enough. Enough, enough, enough. Enough.

I've been in China almost two years, and I've spent a bunch of that time talking and reading and writing about sports here.

I've earned the right to ask one simple thing: Let's never compare anybody to Yao Ming again.

Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

I promise, it will be better for everybody.

I'll take one sentence to establish that I recognize that Yao is not just some dude who went from China to the US and became an NBA All-Star. He's a physical specimen who dominated a game in which many Chinese sports fans feel they're at a genetic disadvantage, he captured the world's imagination, and he balanced impeccable grace with disarming charisma.

I know a lot of people, but I don't know even one person who can claim even one of those things.

Here comes the catch.

This tendency in Chinese sports culture to christen every single successful athlete as the potential Yao of their chosen sport is ridiculous, counter-productive and embarrassing.

Li Na is the Yao Ming of tennis. Something like 18 different guys are the future Yao Mings of basketball. Liu Xiang is the Yao Ming of track and field, Ding Junhui is the Yao Ming of snooker, I'm the Yao Ming of American sports columnists, you're the Yao Ming of China Daily readers.

If I wrote advertising slogans, I'd write one that said something like "We're all Yao Ming".

Here's the real question: Do you want Yao Ming to be the beginning, or the end?

Let's start with Guan Tianlang.

Guan is awesome at golf. He's a 14-year-old who made the cut at the Masters, so it's reasonable to think he might become a successful professional golfer who wins multiple majors and tangibly popularizes golf in China.

He's also 14 years old - let me re-emphasize: 14 - and my social media feeds are littered with people calling him the Yao Ming of golf.

Yao was 22 when he played his first NBA game. That's more than half-again Guan's age.

Think of all the significant things that happen between the ages of 14 and 22. Breakups. Makeups. Learning how to drive a car. Horribly awkward conversations with your parents. Learning how to smoke a cigarette without looking like a rookie.

I've yet to meet Guan. I do read a lot, and talk to people who have talked to him. By all accounts, he's an incredibly mature 14 year old who could stand to add some distance to his drive, but, given his temperament and support system, will probably do so. Acne and women pose a bigger threat to his career - and, again, he's 14, so calling this a career is ridiculous - than his ability to master long irons.

So instead of having this ridiculous debate about whether a 14-year-old kid can use his excellent short game in golf to impact one of Earth's ancient cultures in 2019 to a similar degree a gigantic, mobile post-player did in basketball in 2008 - how about we sit back and let Guan be Guan?

And, of course, let Li be Li, and Ding be Ding, and me be me.

There are more than one billion people in China. Without a little room to breathe, not one of those will grow to become a one-in-a-billion athlete.

Dusty Lane is a sports copy editor who can be reached at dustylane@chinadaily.com.cn