Guan Tian-lang - Is Golf"s New Young Gun Too Young?

At Age 13, Many Feel Guan Tian-lang is too Young
Photo via GolfToday
One year ago, a 12-year-old by the name of Guan Tian-lang won the inaugural Mission Hills Nike Golf Junior Championship and proudly accepted the trophy from his long-time idol, Tiger Woods.

Both wore red as they stood on the stage together, surrounded by golf officials and Nike executives. Looking back at photos of that day, one gets the sense that the precocious, pubescent winner felt more than ready to assume his share of the stage.

Flash forward a few of hundred days and you'll find Guan Tian-lang, at 13, preparing to play in the Volvo China Open this week ...and poised to become the youngest player in European Tour history.

Having finished fourth in a qualifying event three weeks ago, the prodigious young player was put on a reserve list, and for a short while, feared he'd missed his chance at history.  But his hopes were restored when it was announced that the player who won the qualifier already had a China Open exemption.  So the Tiger trajectory... that began when Guan was introduced to golf at age four by his golf-obsessed, Woods worshiping  Dad...  remains solidly on course.

China golf expert, Dan Washburn wrote a piece for back in 2005 about huge impact Tiger Woods was beginning to have on golf in China. In the article Washburn introduces us to Guan Han Wen, an interior designer from Southern China, who spent a considerable amount of money to bring his wife and son up to Sheshan International Golf Club, outside of Shanghai for HSBC Champions tournament where Tiger would be playing.  His son, you may have surmised, was Tian-lang who, at age 7 had just placed fourth in the 6-and-under division at the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego. 

The record Guan Tian-lang will break this week at age 13 years and 173 days is currently held by Lo Shik-kai who was about 100 days older when he played in the Hong Kong Open almost a decade ago, and as will be the case anytime such an age record is broken there are questions.  It's a given that child prodigies are compelling to watch and young guns make headlines,  but from an ethical standpoint, when is a young gun too young?

Guan Tian-lang on the front page of the European Tour site
"Are we fools?"

Writing in stellar Spanish golf blog Fuera de Límites Ovidiov Vidal asks that question, and it's clear from his post that when it comes to having children as young as 13... however talented and mature they may be... compete in professional tournaments against top tour players, we are, in fact, fools.  ...and exploitative, self-interested fools at that.

As the father of young children himself the spaniard questions the purpose of encouraging such a young kid to play in a top level tournament.  He points out when you put a 13-year-old in this kind of situation, he stands a chance of being unfairly compared to men who started playing before he was even born and as such this kind of test isn't even a good measure of potential.

What it definitely is... no matter what your opinion is on the ethics of encouraging youngsters to play in adult events... is a news story.  Child prodigies are captivating; they grab ratings, sell tickets and generate buzz but as exciting as an ultra-young star like Guan may be, it's hard not to worry about the pressures that such an early entry into the top levels of any sport or dicipline may bring. After all there have been some epic flame outs that are hard to overlook.

Those stories won't stop Guan Tian-lang and his family from forging ahead this we. Nor will they stop the promoters from promoting him, the media from covering him or the fans from clamoring for him and hopefully this particular 13-year-old will be able to keep it all in perspective.

On the topic of child prodigies a couple of interesting links: The Downside of Being a Child Prodigy
presents Alyssa Quart whose own experiences inspired her to write "Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child" and 8 Child Prodigies so Amazing They'll Ruin Your Day and humorous look at prodigies both historical and contemporary who are amazing. And they did ruin my day.