AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bobby Jones played in his first major championship when he was 14, advancing to the third round of the 1916 US Amateur, which at the time was considered one of golf’s crown jewels.
Jones never became a professional, but still won 13 major championships. After retiring in his prime, he built a course and created a tournament that quickly took its place among the game’s elite, where it has remained.
It’s here, at Augusta National Golf Club and this year’s Masters, that another 14-year-old will make his major championship debut nearly 100 years later, turning heads and setting records in the process. Not only will Tianlang Guan become the youngest player in Masters history — by more than two years — but he’ll be the second-youngest contestant ever to compete in any of the four current major championships. Young Tom Morris was one month younger than Guan when he tied for ninth at the ’65 British Open — that’s 1865.
An eighth-grader from China, Guan qualified for the Masters last November by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, a tournament that Augusta National helped establish four years ago in an attempt to grow the game. Getting a 14-year-old Masters participant, from a country that is slowly discovering the sport with plenty of room for growth, just happens to be an unexpectedly newsworthy byproduct.
“I’m not going to push myself too hard, and I’m going to enjoy the game,” Guan said Monday, the first official practice day for the 77th Masters, which starts Thursday. “Hopefully I can play well.”
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