The possibility of a return trip to the Masters Tournament has Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang relishing the challenge of defending his title at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which will be played 24-27 October at Nanshan International Golf Club in Shandong Province, China.
Guan, who spoke with journalists from around the world via teleconference Tuesday, was victorious 12 months ago at Amata Spring Country Club outside Bangkok, earning him a much-coveted berth in the Masters field. He then made history when he became the youngest player ever to make the cut at a major championship. Rounds of 73-75-77-75 for 58th place earned the 14-year-old not only the Tournament’s Silver Cup – the prize for the low amateur in the field – but also worldwide acclaim.
Continuing his fine form, Guan then made the cut at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans just two weeks later, making him the youngest player in more than 100 years to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.
Competing with – and in many cases, beating – a collection of the world’s finest professionals has the Guangzhou native in a buoyant mood ahead of his trip to the northeast corner of his country, home to the challenging Garden Course at Nanshan International.
“After winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur last year and getting into the Masters, it gives me more confidence for myself; I learned so much,” said Guan, who opened up with sublime rounds of 66 and 64 in Thailand before holding on for a nail-biting one-stroke victory over Chinese Taipei’s Pan Cheng-tsung last year. “[So] I don’t feel much more pressure this time. I think it is still the greatest amateur event in the world, so I really hope to win it again. I feel like I am playing well and [if] I’m having a really good week, I can win again.”
A successful defense for Guan, who turns 15 on the second day of this year’s AAC, would emulate the achievement of Hideki Matsuyama, who claimed the title in 2010 and 2011. The Japanese player, who turned professional earlier in the season, has enjoyed a fantastic start to his career in the paid ranks, having collected three titles on home soil and finishing in the top 10 at both the US Open and The Open Championship. Now ranked inside the world’s top 50, the 21-year-old Matsuyama made an impressive debut for the International team at this year’s Presidents Cup.
Guan, however, has no plans to follow in his footsteps by making the switch from the amateur game.
“I have no idea about turning pro now,” said Guan, who has traded the belly putter he used last year for the more traditional-length club. “I’m still working on my game but schoolwork is very important for me still. I think I still have a long way to go.”
While Guan remains modest about his game – he has been working in the gym in an effort to increase his length to help complement his undoubtedly brilliant short game – the teenager is under no illusions of the impact he has made in China’s booming golf market.
“When I went back to China, I think more people recognized me; I appreciate their support a lot,” said Guan. “I think the most important thing is that more and more people, and especially young Chinese people, know about golf and will start to pick up the game. More people know about the Masters and I think it means a lot to the young players in China and they think, probably, the Masters is not that far away from them.”
Organized by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship winner receives an invitation to the Masters the following year and, along with the runner(s)-up, advances to International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship.
Each year, invitations for the championship are sent to the leading players from the APGC-member countries. Each country is automatically provided with two positions, which are to be filled by their highest-ranked players from the WAGR. If there is only one or no players from a member country in the rankings, they are able to nominate one or two players accordingly provided the player/s have a handicap of 5.4 or less.
The remainder of the field is filled by taking the next highest ranked players from the WAGR with the maximum number of players allowed from a country being six. The only exception is for the host country, which is allowed to nominate an additional four players.
The AAC will be broadcast across 150 countries and reach millions of homes around the world. Asian Tour Media will produce the high-definition broadcast, including two hours of live coverage on each of the four competition days. A 30-minute highlight show will also be created after the conclusion of the event, all of which makes the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship the most televised amateur golf tournament in the world.
With a host of broadcast partners across the globe, fans can follow their favorite amateur golfers on TV channels covering key markets in six continents. Live coverage will be broadcast on 24 and 25 October between 1430 and 1630 and from 1600 to 1800 on 26 and 27 October across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America (all times UTC/GMT +8 hours).
Fox Sports will provide tournament coverage in China and across Asia, Australia and the Middle East, while viewers in Japan, South Korea and New Zealand can catch the action on Tokyo Broadcasting System, SBS Golf and Sky Sports, respectively. In Europe, the tournament is distributed through Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and CNBC across continental Europe. Other broadcasters include ESPN2 (United States), ESPN (Latin America), TSN (Canada) and SuperSport (Southern Africa). All of the coverage will also be streamed live here on the official event Web site, www.AACgolf.com.