AVONDALE — He’s certainly the most famous 14-year-old athlete on the planet. Arguably, the most famous 14-year-old period.
Of course, when almost 20 percent of the world’s population consists of your fellow countrymen, and more than 20,000 of them are following you on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that’s a good head start on everyone else.
Tianlang Guan, the golfing sensation who last week became the youngest player ever in the Masters and the youngest ever to make a cut in any major, was at TPC Louisiana on Thursday, talking about his appearance in next week’s Zurich Classic.
Not many 14-year-olds hold news conferences. But Guan couldn’t get through the crowds at Atlanta’s airport unrecognized either.
The crush of attention he received at Augusta — and which is certain to appear in the Zurich — is something Guan is learning to live with.
“It’s not such a bad thing,” Guan said with the help of interpreter Smile Xu. “I think I did a pretty good job of handling it. I don’t feel too much pressure.”
Maybe he should.
The growth potential of golf in China with an increasing middle class able to afford the game is obvious.
Guan, the world’s No. 1 ranked 13-year-old in 2012 and winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which earned him his Masters invitation, is already being touted as the standard-bearer of that boon.
It was not for nothing he was wearing Nike gear Thursday, although his equipment is a mixture of TaylorMade, Callaway and Nike-made product.
It was also not for nothing, besides the timing, that Guan is making New Orleans possibly his only other American tour appearance this year, courtesy of a sponsor’s exemption Zurich officials were happy to extend.
Guan came to Louisiana in May to play in a U.S. Open qualifier at Lakewood Country Club.
He shot a 71, which wasn’t good enough, but got to know Lakewood director of instruction Jimmy Headrick, who is active nationally on the junior teaching level.
Guan and his parents remained in New Orleans for another three weeks where they also reconnected with family friend Peter Chen, a local restaurateur.
“New Orleans is comfortable for me,” Guan said. “I feel good to come back here, because we have some friends here.
“I enjoyed working with Jimmy Headrick. He is a very good coach for kids.”
Guan is repaying Headrick for his kindness by appearing at a clinic at Lakewood at 10 a.m. Saturday. He is also committed for Monday’s Pro-Am and may compete Wednesday’s Pro-Am as well.
Mostly, though, Guan said he would be concentrating on competing against a strong field on a course he said was “pretty flat, but challenging.”
For that reason, Guan added, he didn’t feel any more pressure between playing in the Masters and playing in the Zurich.
“In every tournament you want to play well,” he said. “Maybe there’s a little difference for me between this tournament and the Masters. But not too much. I have good confidence right now.”
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