The 2013 Masters was one of the best major tournaments in the history of golf, with multiple monumental storylines branching out in different directions. Before the tournament hit the weekend, perhaps no story was bigger than 14-year-old Chinese amateur Tianlang Guan, who became the youngest player ever to participate in and then make the cut at the Masters.
Guan was paired with old-timer Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner and considered one the game's great mentors and historians, and former teenage amateur phenom, Italian star Matteo Manassero. Facing the world's most famous course for the first time, and green speeds he'd probably never experienced, it was likely that Guan bow out early at Augusta, posting a couple rounds in the upper 70s or low 80s and then taking the weekend off. But it was pretty clear from the start that he would be fighting for those first 36 holes to make it through to the weekend.
The amateur opened with a 1-over round of 73, good enough for T46 and above the cut line right in the middle of the pack. He put on a show throughout his first competitive 18 holes at Augusta, and then finished in style with a smooth birdie putt from the fringe on No. 18 to applause of Crenshaw:
At 14-years-old, just earning entry and showing up to play a couple rounds would have been an accomplishment. But on Thursday night, everyone was talking about whether the teenager could make it and go the full 72 holes.
His second tour through Augusta was a bit more of a grind, and Guan finished with a 3-over round of 75. But it should have been one stroke less, as he was dinged with an unheard of one-stroke penalty for slow play by the notorious John Paramor, who one writer called "the Joey Crawford" of golf rules officials. Guan had been warned about his pace down in Amen Corner at No. 12:
And then Paramor actually had the stones to take the relatively extreme step of dishing out the penalty. A confused Guan was informed of the one-stroke punishment in the 17th fairway as he battled to stay above the cut line over the final two holes of his second round:
Word of the penalty spread quickly, and the general reaction was indignant outrage. Slow play is definitely a problem at all levels of golf, but penalizing the 14-year-old hardly seemed appropriate. Plenty of golfers had been "put on the clock" in recent years, but this was the first one-stroke penalty for pace since Glen Day in the 1995 Honda Classic.
Guan himself took it in stride and told ESPN he "respected the decision," but the Internet, TV, and Twitter erupted when they learned the kid who had been the best story of the first two days might miss the cut because of the ruling. Even Weezy got in on it:
Guan shouldn't have the penalty. Shame on the Masters— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) April 12, 2013
This may be the most moronic move Augusta has made. If Guan misses cut b/c of his penalty, golf will never live it down.— Stina Sternberg (@StinaSternberg) April 12, 2013
Slow-play penalties that were rescinded per Golf Digest June issue: Gary Player (1980 PGA) and John Schroeder & John Brodie (1981 U.S. Open)— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) April 12, 2013
Pace of play is horrendous. And the 14-year-old gets dinged? Tiger has been out there for 1 hour, 25 minutes. Hasn't finished No. 4.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) April 12, 2013
Penalty for slow play? To a 14yo, history making nonmember? First time in 18 years? Slow play sucks, it's rampant, but bedevil someone else!— Christina Kim (@TheChristinaKim) April 12, 2013
How composed is Tianlang Guan to par 18 and keep his cut hopes alive after receiving the one-stroke penalty on 17?— Sean Martin (@GolfweekSMartin) April 12, 2013
Ben Crenshaw on slow play penalty to Guan: "This isn't going to wind up pretty. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this happened."// Mockery!!— Steve Flesch (@Steve_Flesch) April 12, 2013
The Joey Crawford of golf... RT @ellingyelling Jon Paramor gave Guan penalty, they say. Was in middle of big Tiger/Paddy slow-play kerfuffle— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) April 12, 2013
More from an indignant Crenshaw: "I'm sick. He's 14 years old."— Sam Weinman (@samweinman) April 12, 2013
Matteo Manessero played with Tianlang Guan said "he's been slow...It didn't feel too slow for me but the times are saying that."— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) April 12, 2013
First slow play penalty in PGA Tour-sanctioned event since Glen Day at 1995 Honda Classic. See? Told you Guan would make history this week.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) April 12, 2013
Brutal. 1st slow-play penalty in 18 years and officials dish it out to a freaking 14yo? I guarantee there were slower pros. No backbone.— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) April 12, 2013
Simple fact is if I was a 14-year-old trying to make history I'd be taking my sweet ass time too.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) April 12, 2013
Slow play has been a bane on tour for decades. Maybe a few penalties are way overdue. Irony is problem predates 14 yr. old kid. #masters— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) April 12, 2013
Guan made four strokes on the par-4 17th, but he was forced to mark down a bogey five and was suddenly teetering on the cut line. He finished his first 36 holes at 4-over par, confined to waiting for all the players behind him to finish up and the cut line to officially settle.
All afternoon and early evening the line stayed right at 4-over, and it looked like he had a good chance to make it via the 10-shot rule as well. Guan did eventually get through right on the number, but the additional stroke made him sweat it out over those last few hours.
As an eighth grader, Guan, of course, never really had a shot at contention but it was quite apparent that he had achieved his goal by making the weekend. He dropped to the bottom of the leaderboard with a Saturday round of 77, and then fired a 75 on Sunday to finish 58th out of the 61 golfers who made the cut.
But given his record-setting age at the game's most celebrated major, his play through the first two days, earning low amateur honors at Bobby Jones' place, and the slow play penalty drama that pushed him to the edge of the cut line, Guan was undeniably one of the top stories in 2013.
Good job, Guan.