COMMENTARY | In his first round of the Memorial Tournament on Thursday, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang fired an even-par 72 on one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour schedule, Muirfield Village.
For those keeping score at home, Guan's score was better than that of 10 former major winners also playing that day. Tiger Woods shot a 71; a mere shot better than a player 23 years his junior.
This kid has serious game and he isn't afraid to compete against the best players in the world on the grandest of stages. But is Guan Tianlang inadvertently shining a spotlight on what is wrong with professional golf in the process?
When Guan exploded onto the golf scene in November 2012 by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur - thus qualifying for The Masters five months later -- his success was met with as much criticism as accolades. Not only was a player who can't legally drive himself to the course beating golfers twice his age, he also managed to take away one of the most coveted invitations in all of sports from those same players.
PGA Tour players Charlie Beljan and Matt Every complained about Guan's inclusion at Augusta National, stating they were more deserving of an invitation to the year's first major. Most golf fans brushed away their comments as sour grapes… but did the PGA veterans have a point?
Watching Guan play in a professional golf tournament goes exactly how one would suspect. He will usually hit driver off the tee when not playing a par-3, swinging as hard as his adolescent frame will allow. Guan's approach shot usually requires a hybrid or fairway wood, which he again attacks with free-swinging abandon. A chip and a putt or two later, Guan escapes with par or bogey and moves on to the next hole.
How is a 14-year-old able to accomplish this with the relative ease of any tour journeyman? By the miracles of modern golf technology! That's how.
Professional golf is a sport once defined by unparalleled precision and pinpoint-accurate ballstriking. In the days of persimmon drivers, balata golf balls and butter knife-esque blades, players were literally surgeons on the course. Distance came at a premium for only the strongest players while shorter players were forced to excel in the art of shot shaping.
As golf clubs and equipment have evolved over the years, so has the margin of error for today's players. Driver clubheads more closely resemble car hubcaps in both size and material. Cavity back and forged irons blast shots further than any fairway wood dreamed to achieve decades ago. Wedges are milled with grooves that literally grab onto today's multi-layered golf balls, generating spin rates and ball flights that would make Isaac Newton blush.
In other words, today's equipment allows professionals to swing as hard as they want with minimal uncertainty of where their ball will end up.
Of course, this is not to suggest that today's professional golfer is by any means less talented or dedicated to his craft as those of yesteryear. Furthermore, what Guan Tianlang is accomplishing in 2013 is both inspiring and historic. He has made two consecutive PGA Tour cuts and is well on his way to a third. I will be the first to admit I am excited and anxious to see what this young man will accomplish next.
But let's not fool ourselves by overlooking the obvious: today's golf equipment has made the game substantially easier for the world's best players, and Guan Tianlang is doing his best to capitalize on a golden opportunity.
Adam Fonseca has been covering professional golf since 2005. His work can be found on numerous digital outlets including the Back9Network and SB Nation. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife. Follow Adam on Twitter @chicagoduffer.
- Sports & Recreation
- Guan Tianlang
- professional golf
- PGA Tour