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Rubenstein: Guan making quite an impression

Amateur Guan Tianlang of China


Augusta, Ga. – Tianlang Guan is two-over through 11 holes of the second round and three-over for the tournament as I start to write and as he plays along–the youngest golfer to qualify for the Masters. The lead is currently six-under-par, and all golfers within 10 shots of the lead after today's second round will make it to the weekend. Guan at the moment has a shot to spare.

I just came in from watching him. He's preternaturally calm, at least from what I can discern. He had to pitch out to 30 yards short of the ninth green after missing the fairway. He then hit his third past the hole and it came back within four feet. In for par.

On 10 he set up with the perfect triangle over the ball that golfers aspire to create–isosceles-like, given the position of his arms. George Knudson set up that way, and it was a pretty picture. Guan hit a high draw that finished 10 yards behind 61-year-old two time-Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, and 30 yards behind the Italian maestro Matteo Manassero, an aging veteran by comparison to Guan. Manassero, a professional, will turn 20 on April 19th. Guan, an amateur, is 14 and won't turn 15 until October 25th.

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I ran into Billy Fuller, a golf course architect, on the right of the 10th fairway as we watched Guan prepare to hit his long approach to the 10th green. Fuller, who has his own business now, worked with Bob Cupp, who designed the terrific Beacon Hall course in Aurora, Ont. Torontonian Tom McBroom worked closely with Fuller on Beacon Hall. Fuller was also course superintendent at Augusta National for five years. He knows his stuff. And by the by, Beacon Hall has just overhauled its website. It's a beauty and worth checking out in these nasty days of mid-April in Toronto–ice storms and all, I'm told and I see when I care to take a look at the conditions. May the Beacon Hall website and the Augusta National coverage warm your chilly souls. May spring arrive soon in Ontario.

Fuller and his son John, who will turn nine next month, were enthralled with Guan. "There's quite a spirit in that 14-year-old's body," Fuller said. His son raised his head to watch Guan's approach. He appeared to be hitting a four or five-iron. The hole in the second round is cut to the far left of the 10th green, and you don't want to miss left of the green. Guan took his shot in over the deep bunker at the right front of the green. It sailed and it turned and it rolled about 45' to the right of the hole. Ideal. Safe.

Guan walked around to the other side of the green to examine the line of his putt. He returned, set up, and did not hit the putt he wanted. The ball came up what looked to be about six feet, maybe more, short of the hole. He rolled that putt in.

Guan missed the 11th green to the right, which was where Ben Hogan, the 1951 and 1953 Masters winner, intentionally missed his second shots. Hogan said, famously, that if he hit his approach on the 11th green, then he had missed his shot. He did not want to flirt with the pond to the left.

Guan had some 20 yards to the hole. He hit the sweetest pitch and run that finished four feet short. He holed that par putt. Guan was still two-over for the round, three-over for the tournament, and inside the projected cut line. Just now, I'm watching Masters Select on the screen that the tournament provides every journalist at his or her working station. I see USA Today's fine columnist Christine Brennan fiddling with her arrangement a row ahead and across the aisle from me.

Guan found the fairway on the par-five 13th, and has just laid up in position to play his third to the green. Will he make birdie? He has a tremendous short game. Crenshaw, a master of that part of the game, was very impressed with him during the first round. I'm sure he's still impressed. The youngster, barely into his teenage years, has what everybody is calling "soft hands."

Here comes his third shot. He's behind the ball. He's over the ball. He takes a couple of looks at his target. He swings. Whoops, he's come up 30' short of the hole. But then again, long is wrong.

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Let's see how Guan fares from here in. Will he make the cut? Whatever he does, he's already done a lot. Ben Crenshaw is impressed, Billy Fuller is impressed, and, well, everybody at this Masters is impressed. He just hit his 30-foot birdie putt a couple of feet left of the hole on the 13th, marked his ball, and then made it when it was his turn.

No flutters so far. No flutters, and what a future.

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