AUGUSTA – Tianlang Guan walked on to the 18th green to a round of applause and walked off it, a few moments to standing ovation and shouts of “Guan! Guan! Guan!”.
In between the two he sank a putt of some 15 feet or so from the fringe, curling it around and in to make a birdie. He plucked off his cap, punched the air, and broke into a broad smile that showed off the big gap between his two front teeth.
For the first time since he took the first tee he looked like what he was: a 14-year-old kid, the youngest player in the history of the Masters, the youngest player in any major since Young Tom Morris in 1865. When Tiger Woods won his first major, Guan was not even born.
That putt meant Guan had gone around Augusta in 73, one over par, two strokes better than the score of the defending champion, Bubba Watson.
For the few hundred fans gathered around in the gloaming it felt like they were getting a sneak glimpse of the shape of things to come.
Guan himself was sure they were. Asked if he felt he could win the tournament, he thought about it and replied with utmost confidence and in immaculate English: “Probably not this year, but in the future.” His long term goals? He says he doesn’t just want to win one major, but “all four in one year”.
Ben Crenshaw, who partnered Guan in practice and again in the first round, has seen all manner of things in the 40 years he has been playing as a professional, was pretty much dumbstruck.
“He played like a veteran,” Crenshaw said, shaking his head. “A veteran who has been around the block many, many times.” He talks like one too. He said the round was “a dream come true”.
Crenshaw reckoned that during the round Guan had played “four of the most beautiful pitches I have ever seen on a golf course.”
He whistled with wonder when he thought about the shots he watched Guan play on 13 to make a birdie, and on 17 to save par.
When Guan chipped on to the 6th from the back of the green, Crenshaw stopped, stood still, and applauded along with everyone else in the gallery.
When Guan was playing the course with a member last weekend, he shot 69. Every night since he arrived he has had to start on his homework after finishing. His parents promised to give him the night off after his first round but only because he had an early tee time on Friday.
Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, a competition organised by the R&A and Augusta National to promote the game in that part of the world.
His age alone meant that he has been the hot topic of conversation all week long. But no one was expecting him to play this well. Apart from Guan and his family, of course. “He did very well, amazing,” said Guan’s father.
“But he was only as good as he always is.” There were a few nerves on the first tee, Guan said, but “then I hit a great tee shot and after that everything just felt very comfortable.”
The boy is a natural. Remember his name.