AUGUSTA — This is life in the big leagues. One day you’re the toast of the town, the next, you’re just toast.
That was almost the case for Tianlang Guan at the Masters Tournament. A day after the Chinese 14 year old was lauded for shooting a 1-over 73 and becoming the youngest player ever to compete in the Masters, Guan was hit with a one-shot penalty for slow play.
The infraction inflated his two-round total to 4-over 148, nearly making him a casualty of the cut. But when Jason Day couldn’t make birdie on either Nos. 17 or 18, Guan and six other players at 4-over were safe.
That helped Guan break another record, becoming the youngest player to make the cut in PGA Tour history. But it was his other first that was the talk of his round. Guan is the first player in the 77-year history of the Masters to be assessed a slow-play penalty.
The official statement from tournament headquarters was Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for violation of Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the Tournament’s Pace of Play Policy. His group, which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, was deemed out of position on No. 10. Guan began being timed on Hole 12 and received his first warning on Hole 13 after his second shot. In keeping with the applicable rules, he was penalized following his second shot on the 17th hole when he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin.
For his part, Guan had no quarrel with the ruling.
“I respect the decision they make,” the teen said. “One-stroke penalty on the 17th. I think they should do it with respect to everybody.”
That was before Guan knew if he’d be playing today and Sunday at Augusta National. Even with his weekend in peril, the young amateur remained upbeat.
“I think it’s still a great week for me. I enjoy it so far, and I learned a lot,” he said. “If I can make it I would be really happy for it, but if I don’t make it, it’s still a great week.”
Not everybody took the first-of-its-kind penalty in stride. Guan’s playing partner Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, was torn up about the penalty and the possibility it could’ve put Guan on the wrong side of the cut.
“I’m sick. I’m sick for him,” said Crenshaw, who laid out a rationale for why Guan had to take his time on No. 17, where he was charged with taking too much time. “He’s 14 years old, we’re playing – when you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot. I’m sorry, I’m a player. But it is not easy to get around this golf course the way it’s set up for two days. We’re playing threesomes. We used to play twosomes on the first two days. We’re playing threesomes. So everybody is taking their time. It’s difficult.
“I am so sorry. I’m so sorry this has happened. It’s not going to be pretty.”
Day’s par-par finish, along with an unforgiving deflection off the pin on No. 15 that changed Tiger Woods’ round might have saved Guan, Augusta National and everybody else involved from a difficult situation.
“I wish they would have made an example out of somebody else except for a 14 year old kid, you know?” Brandt Snedeker said. “I’m sure he was just – made an example out of me or somebody else, but a kid just trying to make a cut in his first week of the Masters. But I understand that slow play is a problem and it’s just a tough situation. I feel bad for the kid.”
Although it’s not the politically correct thing to do to uphold the letter of the law for a teenager, there wasn’t a lot of dissension with the ruling.
“It feels hard to give a 14 year old a penalty, but he’s in the field,” were the thoughts of 53-year old Fred Couples, the 1992 green jacket winner making in his 29th masters appearance. “He beat a lot of guys yesterday, whatever the hell age he is. But I think he’s going to make it. … So you know, I mean, the soft‑coated answer would be I feel bad, but I also feel like they just don’t go around handing out one‑shot penalties here. I don’t even know of anyone who has ever gotten one.”
Even Crenshaw didn’t dispute the time taken on No. 17.
“There’s no question he played slowly at times. But he was working things out,” said Crenshaw, who wasn’t warned or penalized, nor was Matteo Manassero – the third member of their group. “The rule’s 45 seconds, you know, and it’s pretty difficult for somebody to do that in a tournament like this with conditions the way they are. It’s going to happen, but I’m really sorry.”
The penalty took away from what was another impressive round by Guan, who ended up making the cut while neither Crenshaw nor Manassero did. Guan carded 75, with two bogies on the front nine to go with 15 pars, and the penalty-aided bogey on No. 17. The overall solid play, along with the recently-expanded cut limits allow Guan to continue his Masters weekend. Today he’ll be paired with Thorbjorn Olesen and the two are scheduled to tee off at 9:55 a.m.
“Obviously it’s an amazing achievement to get to the weekend at Augusta. And being able to play and experience what he’s going to experience on the weekend, you can’t buy that stuff,” Day said. “It’s unfortunate that he received the penalty, but he can learn from that and move on and hopefully can play well over the next two days.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.