Golf’s popularity is still in its infancy in China, where it was considered an imperialist sport until recently. The tours, sponsors and television are all eager to tap into that massive market, and having a home-grown star like Guan would only help. The Chinese media contingent at the Masters more than tripled from last year, and Guan’s followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, is already close to 30,000.
For now, however, it’s back to being a kid.
Guan still goes to regular public school in his hometown of Guangzhou, with English, math and history his favorite subjects. (Asked what classes he took, Guan said, “China, you don’t take classes, they give you classes.”) He lugged six of his textbooks along with him to Augusta and, after letting his studies slide the last few days, he planned to hit the books Sunday night.
He and his parents initially planned to directly return to China, but that’s now up in the air. He’s received several invitations to play in other events, and he and his parents are trying to decide which ones to accept. He’d also like to try to qualify for the U.S. Open.
One thing Guan won’t be doing any time soon is turning professional.
His father said Thursday that he wants Guan to stay an amateur because “amateurs have fun. Enjoy it.” And Guan said he still has a lot to learn. Though he’s got a short game any pro would envy, he’s nowhere close to the big guys when it comes to distance. That’s sure to change as he gets older and stronger.
“Remember, he’s only 14,” said Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion who was paired with Guan on Sunday. “In another three years, you’ll probably see a huge difference in his length.”
And, Guan hopes, the rest of his game, too.
“There’s still a lot of things to learn to improve,” he said. “So nothing to rush.”
Well, maybe just one thing.
Asked when he thought he might like to win the Masters, he said:
“As soon as possible.”