On Thursday “The Kid” gave the grown-ups a tweak. On Friday, they sent him to his room. Slow play is the scourge of golf but the whole debate about why no one ever gets penalised came crashing down on 14-year-old Guan Tianlang.
The history-making kid from Guangzhou in China was dealt a one-stroke penalty on the 17th fairway and was then left to sweat on whether he would make the cut. He is the first player in the 77 years of the Masters ever to fall foul of Rule 6-7. He joins Sam Randolph and Ed Fryatt from the US Opens of 1987 and 1997 as only the third player to receive such punishment.
The letter of the law was followed but the harshness of the decision is accentuated because the snail’s pace of play is a weekly blight on the game made all the more puzzling and shameful by the fact that no one has been docked a shot on the PGA Tour since Glen Day in 1995.
Guan was asked if he thought he was the only slow player on the course. “I don’t know what they do, but I don’t think I’m too bad,” he said. “I respect the decision they make. You mean if the penalty made me miss the cut? I think it’s still a great week for me. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I learned a lot.”
There is no doubt Guan is slow and deliberate in his preparation and pre-shot routine but he is no slower than several other serial slugs on tour. The difference, perhaps, is the grown-ups know how to beat the clock and the system, “The Kid” does not and has learned a tough lesson as a student of the school of hard knocks.
“I just changed my routine before the Masters, and the routine is good, but I think today is pretty hard because if you’re timed only 40 seconds, it’s pretty hard because you need to make the decision,” Guan said. “The wind switched a lot. But that’s the same for everybody.”
Guan was warned several times on the back nine and English referee John Paramor, the chief referee on the European Tour, said he had no choice but to issue the one-shot penalty. “That’s my job. That is what I do,” he said, adding that Guan’s age made no difference to his decision. “No, because it is the Masters,” Paramor said.
“There’s no question he played slowly at times. But he was working things out in windy conditions,” said a visibly upset Ben Crenshaw, his 61-year-old playing partner. “But I’m really sorry. This is not pretty.”
The mood at Augusta was that perhaps Guan had been made an example of. The lesson was for him but also for the grown-ups. It was a shame his second round had to end this way especially as “The Kid”, as the Augusta patrons have dubbed him, has been feeling the love from the patrons and Green Jackets alike even before he caused a sensation with a first round of one-over-par 73. The patrons were out in force to see if their adopted son could keep it going. And the boy’s got guts signing for a three-over-par 75 to be four over par for the tournament.
But the roots of his slowness are plain to see. Guan’s game is all science; his swing mechanical like painting by numbers taught no doubt with the use of hours of video camera analyses. A machine perhaps is easier to fix when it goes wrong. And for those that say belly putters do not give an advantage on the greens, Guan is not using one like a crutch for an old man with the yips; he’s 14, it’s a choice. You just know some statistics cruncher in China has calculated that a belly putter will give The Kid an edge.
The grown-ups duly clipped that edge off him at the end of his second round.