So you’re sitting at the kitchen table, swiping through the Sunday Globe on your coffee-stained tablet, and your 14-year-old son proclaims that he’s going to play in the Masters next spring.
Without ever looking up, you do one of the following:
■ Nod, smile, and ask him if the rest of his buddies were telling their parents the same yarn as sort of an independent flash mob joke. “Son, your bow tie,’’ you say, laconically, “is actually a camera, right?’’
■ Silently wonder whether chocolate milk is a hallucinogen, then pledge that you’ll limit junior’s time playing Wii golf. “Gadgets, so addictive,’’ you mutter, clicking off your tablet.
■ Consider a tempered rewrite of the “son, you can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough’’ speech.
■ Emphatically note that he best check with his mom, who, if you remember correctly, made initial plans to fly over Augusta, Ga., that week on a family trip to Disney World. “Maybe,’’ you suggest with increasing personal interest, “we could take in a round of the Masters on our way down.’’
That’s not how the conversation went last week in Guan Tianlang’s house. Not after young Mr. Tee’s victory Sunday in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which, among other things, earned the 14-year-old an exemption into the next Masters. Turns out, Tianlang actually will tee it up April 11 with the likes of Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, and whatever other royal and ancients make it to golf’s real-life version of Disney World.
Tianlang also will have a chance to shake hands with Darla Moore and Condoleeza Rice, the first two female members of Augusta National. Less than a year ago, what would have seemed the wilder hallucination: Moore and Rice in green jackets, or a 14-year-old Chinese kid with a tee time locked in for Thursday at the Masters?
To quote late Red Sox announcer Ned Martin: Mercy!
Tianlang is from Guangzhou, a city of 11 million 75 miles from Hong Kong, and his win last Sunday in Bangkok was no fluke. A regular summertime visitor to the US West Coast, where he typically stays with family friends in Los Angeles and San Diego, he won the Junior World Golf Championships a couple of years ago in San Diego, and did so by a whopping 11 strokes.
Get the feeling that Stanford could find a spot for him on the golf team? Though a mere 125 pounds and a bit short off the tee at 250 yards (at best), he nonetheless has tons of game.
Augusta National, along with the Royal and Ancient, the sport’s governing body in Europe, three years ago joined hands as sponsors of the Asia-Pacific Amateur. The golf industry has hit somewhat of a wall in both the US and Europe, with new course construction all but dormant and the playing audience stunted.
If the game is going to grow on the participatory end, then Asia is the place, and China, the Land of a Billion Grips-and-Rips, the preferred track. Augusta and the R&A partnered in hopes of expanding the game’s worldwide interest and, directly or indirectly, profiting from the growth.
With an increasing segment of China’s 1.1 billion population gaining the financial means and interest to pick up sticks, course architects and equipment manufacturers are looking at the country the way gold prospectors viewed California in the middle of the 19th century.
Tianlang is among the first nuggets. He’s already a winner even if he doesn’t clear the cut in Augusta. Not only will he be the youngest yet to play in the Masters, but the youngest to play in a men’s major professional tournament. His win last Sunday also earned him a spot to try to play into the British Open as a qualifier.
Not even Woods had this kind of global recognition at such a young age. OK, true golf junkies knew of Eldrick Woods by the end of the ’90s, when he was 14-15, but Tiger’s Q rating didn’t truly begin to build until his late teens and early 20s. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the significant difference of those 3-5 years probably doesn’t remember what it’s like to be 14. The teens are the dog days of early adulthood, and like a dog, each year is equal to seven years later in life (the AARP soon will have an app available for easy computation).
Tianlang will arrive in Augusta as its No. 1 curiosity, provided Woods, who then will be 37, hasn’t spent the first 100 or so days of the Tour tearing up courses like a twentysomething Tiger. Media from around the world will want to know Tianlang’s favorite brand of clubs, preferred ball, and any bit or piece outside of golf.
He’ll at least be old enough to discuss movies rated above PG-13. But if asked about his favorite car, he’ll probably have to say it’s whatever the driving instructor shows up with that day. Better maybe for E! and everyone else to focus on comic books, bicycles, and the lunch menu at Zhi Zin Middle School.
We do know that Tianlang prefers a belly putter, although at 125 pounds, we must ask, uh, what belly?! Maybe best not to ask anyway, because the USGA and the R&A are believed to be on the verge of denying players the ability to anchor any stick to the body. This is a cute way of saying long putters are allowed, so long as they’re not tucked into the gut. Which is also a way of saying only Dirk Nowitzki might use a belly putter if he gives up the basketball thing.
Hunkered over his belly putter on No. 18 in Bangkok last Sunday, Tianlang sank a 5-footer to win the Asia-Pacific by one stroke. He led wire-to-wire for four days, up by five strokes through 36 holes, then by a pair after Saturday. He then held off challenger Pan Cheng-tsung, from Chinese Taipei, draining that steady-handed roller of 60 inches for the win.
“I got a little bit nervous on the last putt,’’ said Tianlang.
On April 11, five months from today, he will be called to the first tee at Augusta National, and no doubt that will be unnerving. Roughly 8,000 miles away in Guangzhou, middle school classmates will be tuned in via TV or Internet. Only 14, barely the same weight as a fully loaded golf bag, he just might mutter to himself, “Hey, dad, I’m like, you know, playing in the Masters.’’
Of course you are, son, of course you are.