When Tian-Lang Guan of Guangzhou, China came to New Orleans to participate in the local qualifying for the U.S. Open held at Lakewood Golf Club, a child prodigy was in our midst.
While his 71 came up short of the mark needed on that day, just the month before he became the youngest person to ever compete in a sanctioned European PGA Tour event, qualifying for The Volvo China Open at the age of 13 years and 177 days. He also qualified for the 2012 Australian Open as the youngest player in that tournament. The impressive overall China Amateur Champion has already played rounds twice with another former child prodigy, Tiger Woods.
During the visit to the United States with his parents Hanwen and Hongyu, Tian-Lang stayed with friends in New Orleans for a month and made Lakewood Golf Club his temporary home course. He became a regular face around the club and participated as an instructor and friend in Lakewood's nationally recognized junior golf program. It was simply his way of giving back to the game.
During this time, he fine tuned his game, which included having his irons' lie and loft adjusted by Lakewood's Tyler Goynes.
"The people at Lakewood are very friendly and everyone makes us feel at home," Tian-Lang explained. "I also like Lakewood because the greens are fast and really good, the best so far (he has seen) in the US. We are grateful to Mr. (Brad) Weaver. This has been a special time." Brad Weaver is Lakewood's PGA Director of Golf.
When he won his age group last year at the World Junior in San Diego, Guan's performance received global attention. He fired rounds of 63-69-66 to win by 11 strokes.
The prodigy began playing golf at age five and first broke par from the adult tees at age nine. At 11 years old, he won the China Future Amateur at two-under par and has already made four holes-in-one. It comes as no surprise when he then won China's Amateur Championship at 12 and then the China Amateur Open at 13. He is the best amateur golfer in all of China.
When asked who his major influence is, he said without hesitation, "Tiger Woods; he has determination and heart." Woods presented Guan the champion's trophy at the 2011 Mission Hills Nike Junior Championship in China where his nine-under par finish impressed Woods. "You have a beautiful swing and you have a great future," told Tiger to Guan. Those are important words from his major influence in golf.
When asked what his goals in golf are, he spoke with a confidence beyond the typical 13-year old. "I want to continue to get better and win major championships."
In 2016, there will be golf in the Olympics for the first time since 1904. When you think that China had only one golf course in 1984 and now golf is booming with over 600 courses and more under construction, you know they will be taking the Olympic challenge seriously.
"Yes, I would be honored," Guan said when asked if he would represent China if the opportunity presents itself. He will be 17 at that time. I feel with certainty he will be at the opening ceremony representing his country.
Tian-Lang's time in New Orleans has now come to an end. He left here to compete in the American Junior Golf Association tournament in Alabama. His family will then spend the rest of the summer in Southern California where he will participate in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Public Links Qualifyings.
Tian-Lang and his family will head back to China in September. But the US and the golf world will be seeing plenty of this young man again soon.
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