AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — History is one of Guan Tianlang’s favorite subjects in school.
Hours after the 14-year-old was the first player ever penalized for slow play at the Masters, he became the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta National.
“I made it,” he said afterward to his 25,000 followers on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “I hope I can continue to make miracles. Thanks to my parents! Thanks to everyone who has helped me, supported me and cared about me.”
Guan had to wait until the very last group finished to know if he was in or out. He finished at 3-over 75 for the round, giving him a 4-over 148 total. The top 50 players made the cut, as well as those within 10 strokes of the lead. Jason Day was 6 under with two holes left, but he missed a birdie putt by inches on 17, and was in the sand off the tee on 18.
“Obviously, it’s an amazing achievement to get to the weekend at Augusta. And being able to play and experience what he’s going to experience on the weekend, you can’t buy that stuff,” Day said. “I talked to him earlier and he seems like a really, really good kid. It’s unfortunate that he received the penalty, but he can learn from that and move on and hopefully can play well over the next two days.”
For all the talk of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, Guan added a buzz to the Masters. An eighth grader who arrived at Augusta National with textbooks stuffed in his bag, he is the youngest player ever at the Masters and the youngest at any major in 148 years.
He impressed fans and fellow players alike with his steady play and calm demeanor, and making the cut looked like a given when he teed off on 17. But he was assessed a one-shot penalty after his second shot at the 17th hole, turning what would have been a par into a bogey.
Slow play is a frequent complaint among golfers, particularly at major events, but it’s rarely enforced. Guan is believed to be the first player penalized for slow play at the Masters. The last player to be penalized at a major was Gregory Bourdy in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
“A rule is a rule,” Guan’s father, Han Wen, said after his son was penalized. “It’s OK.”
But it sure caused a headache for Masters officials, who were horrified that anything might spoil the coming out party of a youngster who has the potential to be golf’s biggest star since Tiger Woods. Several “green jackets” were waiting for Guan at the scoring building when he finished his round, and he spent almost 90 minutes talking with rules and tournament officials.
“That’s unfortunate,” Brandt Snedeker said. “I wish they would have made an example out of somebody else except for a 14-year-old kid, you know? Make an example out of me or somebody else. But a kid just trying to make a cut in his first week of the Masters? I understand that slow play is a problem and it’s just a tough situation. I feel bad for the kid.”
Guan said he has never had issues with slow play before, and he wasn’t warned Thursday. But conditions at Augusta National are notoriously tricky in perfect weather, and the swirling, gusty wind blowing Friday only made them more difficult.
“I respect the decision they make,” Guan said. “They should do it because it’s fair to everybody.”
Though Guan had played about a dozen practice rounds before the tournament, it often takes golfers years to figure out the best way to play Augusta National and Guan repeatedly sought the advice of his caddie, Brian Tam, who is a regular caddie at the course. The teenager tossed blades of grass into the air before many of his shots to test the wind. He was often indecisive about his clubs, pulling one, taking a few practice swings and then asking for another one.
“I just changed my routine before the Masters and the routine is good, but I think today is pretty hard,” Guan said. “You need to make the decision, but the wind switched a lot. But that’s for everybody.”
Guan and his playing partners, Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, never held up the group behind them. But Fred Ridley, the competition committee chairman at Augusta National, said they were first warned for being out of position at No. 10.
“I don’t know what they do, but I don’t think I’m too bad,” Guan said.
The Masters follows the Rules of Golf, written by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient. Rule 6-7 requires golfers to keep up “with any pace of play guidelines that the committee may establish.” For a threesome at Augusta National, those guidelines set a target of 4 hours, 38 minutes to play 18 holes. Once a group is warned it is “out of position” — too far behind the group just ahead — each player is timed and allotted 40 seconds to play the shot.
Guan went on the clock on 12, and received his first warning at the 13th.
“In keeping with the applicable rules ... he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin,” Ridley said in a statement.
Guan said he understood the warning, and tried to pick up his pace.
“A little bit,” he said. “But I think my routine is good. The only problem is I have to make the decision.”
There was another long delay on the par-3 16th after a gust of wind dunked Manassero’s tee shot in the water. Guan, hitting next, spent more than five minutes debating clubs with Tam.
“When the caddie pulls the club for him, I think he’s ready. But he just sometimes — most of the times — he takes a little too long. He just asks questions that I think he knows, just to be sure, just to be clear in his mind,” Manassero said. “If I would have took more time on 16, I probably would have saved two shots, as well.”
John Paramor, the chief referee for the European Tour, said he warned Guan as the group walked to the 17th tee that he needed to speed it up. But Guan had another long delay before his second shot on the hole as he tried to read the wind, and Paramor pulled him aside as the teenager approached the green. Paramor informed Guan he was being assessed a one-stroke penalty, and they had an animated discussion for several minutes.
“You give him the news, the best you can,” Paramor said.
Guan said he was aware of the rule, which has been part of golf etiquette since 1934 and was added to the rule book in 1952. But the penalty rattled him, and he missed an easy birdie putt on 17. He pulled himself together on 18, nearly holing out from a greenside bunker. When the ball hit the back of the cup and bounced a few inches past the hole, leaving Guan an easy putt for par, his father yelled, “Yes!” and clapped his hands several times.
“No problem,” Han Wen said. “No problem.”
After Guan made the cut, fellow Chinese golfers and fans offered their congratulations in China’s active social media.
“Your future, the future of Chinese golf, the world’s No. 1, everything is possible,” China’s top-ranked professional golfer, Liang Wenchong, wrote in a comment to Guan’s Weibo post.
Another Chinese golfer, Zhang Lianwei, wrote on his own microblog that Guan’s success “proves the strength of China’s young generation of golfers and shows the gap between Chinese golfers and world-class golfers is narrowing.”