Masters becoming child's play?

Guan Tianlang Guan Tianlang, 14, qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur...

Guan Tianlang Guan Tianlang, 14, qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship a week ago. (REUTERS)

IAN HUTCHINSON, For QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:18 PM ET

When we make the 2013 trip up Magnolia Lane in the annual rite of spring in April, there will be something different among the azaleas and it won’t only be the first female members of Augusta National, although Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore will hardly be inconspicuous.

The image that golf is exclusively for rich, older guys puffing on fat stogies and enjoying their entitlements is one that the game’s supporters want obliterated and its critics want perpetuated.

As a result, that stereotype is something the game will, to one degree or another, have to deal with, which will make Rice and Moore leading ladies, at least in the early going, when the cameras are turned on at Augusta next spring.

They won’t be alone on the marquee.

Of course, there will be Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and the usual cast of characters, but also a 14-year-old who could possibly get shooed behind the ropes before he tees it up as the youngest player ever in the Masters if he doesn’t get mistaken for an exuberant fan.

It’s been a year that has seen 14-year-old Brooke Henderson of Smith’s Falls, Ont., win a professional event to qualify for the CN Canadian Women’s Open, an event won by 15-year-old Lydia Ko, who became the youngest to in an LPGA Tour event.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Andy Zhang became the youngest to play in the U.S. Open, but missed the cut, which could very well be the fate of Guan Tianlang, 14, who qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship a week ago.

The spin that will go on this story will be crafted like a well-struck approach shot.

The Chinese teen will help grow the game in his country, in Asia, globally. Having a junior walking Amen Corner is a sign of the times at Augusta, indicating golf and Augusta are changing quickly. Insert your own agenda here.

It will be curious to see if a kid can play like an adult, or the adults will act like kids at Augusta with their expectations. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., flew into Bethpage Black under the radar at the 2009 U.S. Open and came away low amateur, so he’s not sure what Guan faces.

“It’s hard to say,” said Taylor, once the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world.

“If he comes in and makes the cut and plays unbelievably, then maybe it was meant to be, but there is a lot of pressure, for sure,” he added.

“It would be tough if you’re not used to it. He’s going into Grade 9, maybe. To have the world watching and you’re all over TV, that’s a different thing for a kid in high school,” he said.

“It’s a lot of pressure that not many 14-year-olds really go through,” said Taylor, who remembers when a good friend of his, Darren Wallace, won the 2004 Canadian Amateur at the age of 15.

Wallace, like Taylor, played this year on the Canadian Tour.

“Obviously, it was unbelievable when he did it and it’s still amazing for how young he was, but the amount of pressure he felt when he was 15, the last few years of high school, I don’t know what that would be like,” said Taylor.

Few do, but you can bet it will be magnified at Augusta. Even more curious will be how he reacts to the experience, both short and long term.

OFF TO SECOND STAGE

Taylor finished the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying school at 15-under, good for third place and a move on to this week’s second stage at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, Calif.

“Every step I’ve gone through in golf, the first year or two have always been a learning process — junior golf to college to pro. It’s always taken a little bit of time,” said the 2007 Canadian Amateur champion.

He recorded three top-10 finishes on the Canadian Tour, his best being a T3 at the ATB Financial Classic in Edmonton, an improvement over last year, he believes, with one caveat.

“My scoring average definitely was better. I was much more consistent,” he said.

“Overall, I thought really my weekends were kind of what hurt me. A lot of the year through two rounds, I was top five, top-10 and had a really good chance of contending. A lot of times, (on) Saturday, I really had an average round and it kind of put me out of the tournament,” he added.

“Usually, my weekends have been my strong suit. This year, it seemed I got a little cold,” said Taylor, who finished off the first stage with a 65, so maybe that’s changing.

I’LL TAKE CHARLIE

If I’m a Ryder Cup captain, I use one of my picks to go with Charlie Beljan based on what I know now. As a matter of fact, I’d take Beljan for the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup Final or World Series after watching his performance on the weekend. Beljan might not win another tournament as he did at the Childrens Miracle Network Hospital Classic, but he is now one of those guys I will always check how he did after those scary panic attacks (apparently) on Friday, his trip to hospital for overnight tests and his return to the golf course to keep his card for next year. Golf has its fair share of marquee guys, but character guys like this stand out ... Beljan earned a two-year exemption for the win and jumped from 139th on the money list to 63rd ... Rory McIlroy has now clinched the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours. He’s the second consecutive player to do that after Luke Donald did it last year. McIlroy clinched the European money title with a third place finish at the Singapore Open ... Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., and Andrew Parr of London, Ont., failed to get through the second stage of European Tour Q-school on the weekend.


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