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Guan aiming to return to Masters

Updated: 2013-10-23 07:23
By Agence France-Presse ( China Daily)

China's teenage golf prodigy predicts there is 'no limit' to what he can accomplish at Augusta

Chinese golf sensation Guan Tianlang says there's "no limit" to what he can achieve at next year's US Masters if he qualifies by retaining his Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship title this week.

The Guangzhou schoolboy sent shockwaves through the sport at Augusta National in April when, aged just 14 years, five months and 18 days, he became the youngest golfer to make the cut at a major tournament.

And Guan, who lifted the Silver Cup as the top amateur, believes the experience left him him better prepared for the second time around, should he again qualify by winning the Asian amateur title on home soil in Nanshan, starting on Thursday.

 Guan aiming to return to Masters

Since becoming the youngest player in the history of the US Masters earlier this year, Guangzhou teenager Guan Tianlang has been working on his strength and fitness with an eye on earning another invitation to Augusta in April. David Paul Morris / Agence France-Presse

"I really hope I can play at the Masters next April and I will definitely try my best to go high up on the leaderboard," he said..

"As much as I would enjoy my second Masters experience, I hope I can make it to the weekend, win the low amateur again and, of course, go as far as I can. There is no limit on that."

Guan said he has ditched his belly putter - ahead of a ban on the clubs from 2016 - and has also been working on his strength and fitness to put distance on his shots.

He won the Asia-Pacific title by a single stroke in Thailand last November, holding his nerve to sink a crucial five-foot putt on the final hole.

Guan's prize - entry to the Masters - made him the youngest player in the history of the tournament, beating the record set by 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero in 2010.

Guan, who has no shortage of ambition, said he's aiming to become the first player to win golf's hallowed Grand Slam: all four majors in the same year.

Despite his slim build and lack of distance with the driver, he earned acclaim at Augusta by shooting rounds of 73, 75, 77 and 75 for 58th place.

And he attracted widespread sympathy when he was hit with a harsh penalty for slow play, although the youngster insists he harbors no ill-will towards the tournament referee.

"I respect and accept the decision," Guan said.

Guan aiming to return to Masters

"It was actually a good experience, which also made me pay attention to speed when I play. However, I have always been comfortable with my routine and speed, I think it is all OK."

The youngster, who turns 15 on Friday, said his game is much improved after his fitness work and experiences this year.

Guan, who also made the cut at the Zurich Classic in April, said he has learned from the likes of Tiger Woods at the Masters, and also from playing on the PGA Tour.

In a measure of his burgeoning profile, Guan will take on world No 1 Woods and two-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a skills challenge at Mission Hills on Hainan Island on Oct 28.

"I think my distance has improved a bit because of my fitness training during the summer break," he said.

"It is not just about the game, but more importantly the experience and what I have learned from the top golfers at the best professional events."

This week Guan, who said he was feeling "great" with a conventional putter, can emulate Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Asian amateur title in 2010 and 2011.

And if he does earn another ticket to Augusta for the April 10-13 Masters, he said his experience would stand him in good stead.

"The understanding of the course and the tournament would definitely be helpful," Guan said of Augusta's par-72 layout, which this year measured 7,435 yards.

"However, the course is set up differently each year and it will still be very challenging.

"I don't think I would do anything different, just hopefully go there and play a couple of practice rounds to get to know the course."

But any plans to turn professional are firmly on hold, with the level-headed youngster insisting "it is not the time yet".

"Schoolwork and golf are both very important to me. I will think about the whole turning pro thing when I feel I am ready," he said.

(China Daily 10/23/2013 page24)