DUBLIN, Ohio >> Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old Chinese amateur who made history at Augusta National, is bringing his game to Jack Nicklaus’ backyard.
Guan, who last month became the youngest player to make the cut in a major championship when he finished 58th at the Masters, has accepted an exemption to play at the Memorial Tournament next week.
“I am very excited to accept the invitation to play at the Memorial Tournament,” Tianlang said. “It is Jack Nicklaus’ event, and the same as all the golf fans out there I have very high respect to Mr. Nicklaus, not just as a golf legend, but also as a great person. He has been actively involved in the development of golf in China, and junior golf development worldwide, and as a junior golfer myself I appreciate what he has done to help us grow.”
Guan also made the cut at the PGA Tour stop in New Orleans but missed weekend play at last week’s Byron Nelson.
Nicklaus, founder and host of the Memorial, met with Guan’s parents at the Masters and had hoped the young phenom might play at Muirfield Village May 30-June 2.
He is as astounded as any by the maturity the youngster has shown.
“He was 14 years old! I mean, c’mon,” Nicklaus said recently during a trip to his hometown of nearby Columbus. “A seventh-grader won the Asian Amateur, and now he’s an eighth-grader? C’mon, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Nicklaus was very impressed with Guan and his parents.
“He came to me and wanted to know what I felt about his education and what he should do. I said, ‘For the next few years, I’d let him finish up high school.’ Let’s start with that,” Nicklaus said with a laugh.
Nicklaus counseled the family to take it slowly, make sure he gets his schooling and is surrounded by friends and peers.
“His parents are trying to figure out the best way to promote his life in golf,” he said. “I said, ‘Let him make a few of the decisions.’ They’re very sharp people and he was very sharp for an eighth-grade kid to sit there and talk to us all down there. He’s pretty mature. But he’s still 14.”
Many have considered Guan an ambassador for the game, who can get the masses in his homeland interested in the game.
“For his country, he’s going to be the poster boy of being able to say, ‘Look, I can do this. You all go do it, too,'” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus was also considered a prodigy while growing up in suburban Columbus. But he does not put himself in the same category with Guan.
“(When I was 14 I was) trying to figure out where I’m going to take my girlfriend on the next date, whether my history teacher will allow me to skip a class or if the basketball coach is going to have practice,” he joked.
Guan said meeting Nicklaus was one of the highlights of his time at the Masters.
Now he’s looking forward to another memorable trip at Muirfield Village.
“It is going to be a great week,” he said.