AUGUSTA, Ga. – John Paramor stood beside the 18th tee just moments after assessing a controversial one-stroke penalty for slow play to 14-year-old Chinese golfer Tianlang Guan and tried to explain his decision.
The British scoring official said he had advised Guan about slow play after both the 12th and 16th holes. When the eighth grader was again slow to hit a fairway shot on the 17th, Paramor, known for his diligence concerning slow play, immediately pounced. A player has 40 seconds to swing after initially addressing the ball.
"In keeping with the applicable rules, [Guan] was penalized … when he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin," the Masters said via a statement.
The ruling is a rare one in tournament golf and moved Guan to 4-over par, putting his chances to make the cut for the Masters – a remarkable accomplishment – in jeopardy. All Guan could do was wait as the final players trickled in, setting the cut line. When Jason Day finally putted out some four hours later, establishing a two-round best 6-under par, Guan had just snuck in by a single stroke. He's the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters.
"He had warnings," Paramor said. "Everything needs to be done to [preserve fast play]. I made that clear on the walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee. [In the fairway] he walked up the hill to have a look."
Guan wasn't appreciably slow, however after the repeated warnings Paramor said it was just too much. He immediately approached Guan on the fairway and the two had a lengthy discussion as they slowly walked to the 17th green. Paramor showed Guan a stopwatch he was holding.
Guan cited the swirling winds at Augusta Friday for causing him to switch clubs and slow his pre-shot routine.
"Today’s weather [was] not so good," he told ESPN. "[The] winds change a lot. I just had to change my club … so [I went] over 50 seconds. I respect the decision."
Paramor said he was cognizant of who he was penalizing and the stakes involved. Guan is the youngest player to ever compete in the Masters and his ability to play within himself and not panic has produced universal praise and tremendous excitement form the galleries here and all the way back to China. Besides, what eighth grader doesn't need repeated reminders?
"It's his very first Masters," Paramor said. "He's a great player and he'll be fine. He's a strong player. I hope he makes a three [birdie] up there [pointing toward the 18th green] and is playing tomorrow."
Guan almost did, just missing on a chip from the sand wedge. He wound up with a par to finish 3-over on the day.
There was confusion in the gallery over what exactly had occurred. Guan's father, Hanwen, wasn't aware of the penalty stroke until he approached the 18th green and was informed by the media. He previously hoped it was just a warning.
"A rule is a rule," Hanwen said through a translator. "But I don't want to talk too much about it."
Paramor is no stranger to slow play controversies. He is known for a decision at the 2009 Bridgestone Invitation where he warned Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington to speed up play on the final round. Harrington immediately triple bogeyed the 16th hole and lost a one-stroke lead and eventually the tournament.
Woods, despite gaining the advantage, criticized Paramor saying he, "got in the way of a great battle. … I think by rushing like he had to it forced (Harrington) to make a couple mistakes."
At Augusta on Friday, Paramor said Guan needs to use this as a learning moment and speed up play. He said golf organizations even show videos to players to show where they can avoid potential problems.
"I need to work with him in the future," Paramor said.
In the interim, everyone here waited to see whether a tough decision in fragile circumstances would be the difference between one of the great feel-good stories of this event or the one extra stroke that sends a 14-year-old home with a painful lesson. Ultimately it didn't – barely – and Guan will be around for the weekend.
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