Almost lost amid the ballyhoo about Guan Tianlang becoming the youngest golfer to qualify for the Masters and what that means for growing the game in China was a footnote about one of his tools of the trade that traditionalists may loathe more than women in green jackets and children teeing it up in golf’s most prestigious event.
The 14-year-old who went wire-to-wire to win last week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and qualify for the 2013 Masters may stroll down Magnolia Lane directly into a USGA/R&A maelstrom because -- like Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and several other top PGA Tour players -- Guan is a member of the belly putter brigade.
The 125-pound eighth grader may not pound the ball down the fairway like the competitors he bested in his one-shot victory in Thailand; off the tee, the Chinese prodigy regularly came up some 50 yards short of his playing partners. But Guan can roll the rock with the best of them -- thanks to an implement that drives the pious among us into paroxysms of self-righteous indignation.
"Indeed, the only jarring thing about Guan and his remarkable tale is that he uses a belly putter. What, so young and already using this dreadful implement?" the Daily Mail railed on Sunday. "No wonder the governing bodies want to ban them when players so young are using them by choice."
Guan is one of those players.
"I started using it in June and I find it really helps me," he told the publication after draining a five-foot par putt on the final hole to seal his triumph.
If pundits are correct, and the powers-that-be have already decided to ban the anchoring stroke that golfers use to manipulate their long putters, the prodigy who’s even younger than Andy Zhang was when the 14-year-old qualified for this year’s U.S. Open may want to consider other, more conventional flat stick options.
In the meantime, the kid many now view as a pioneer in the campaign to advance golf in China will continue to wedge his putter into his scrawny teenaged gut until some cranky elder yanks it away from him.
"My feeling with the putter is fantastic," Guan told the Associated Press after needing just 47 putts in his first two rounds, an opening 6-under 66 and a 64 on Friday. "That's why I've got a low score."