Augusta, Ga. – Now that I’m at the Masters I’m turning my thoughts to the field. It’s impossible not to think about Tianlang Guan the 14-year-old who will tee it up because he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur last November and thereby earned an invitation. As Tiger Woods said this week, it’s hard to believe that the youngster was born after Woods won his first Masters in 1997. He met the four-time Masters winner at the course, played a practice round with two-time champion Ben Crenshaw and Woods, and he’s playing with Tom Watson, another two-time winner, Tuesday. He’ll play the Par-3 Contest Wednesday with three-time winner Nick Faldo. Nice start.
There’s a strong Canadian connection to Guan. I learned about this on March 21st when Dan Webb, a Canadian pro, sent me an e-mail from China. He is the CEO of Palm Springs Golf in Shenzhen, and runs the Academy at Sand River there. I first met Dan a number of years ago when he was involved with a couple of projects in Ontario. Webb has coached Guan – he calls him Langley – and he wanted to inform me about their work together, and the state of golf in China. He’s also encouraging me to visit him in China and to see what’s going on there in the golf world.
“China is to golf what America was to golf in the ‘20s,” Dan wrote. He added that golf at the Sand River academy is taught like a martial art, and that it’s “about discipline, focus, and harnessing physics.” The teaching isolates five motion segments that Webb and his associations contend must be mastered. Guan is trying to master them, and here he is at the Masters.
Upon my arrival in Augusta, I contacted Dan. I asked that he tell me more about his work with Guan, and more about golf in China. Here’s an edited version of his response.
My focus as a Canadian PGA pro in Canada had been instruction and Project Management/Course Development. I had met with you on both the Shawneeki and Tarandowah projects (north of Toronto, and east of London, respectively). I was one of two Head Teaching Professionals at Kings Golf Academy downtown Toronto and was working on a mega downtown indoor teaching concept with Tom Jackson (from the Core Golf Academy) when I received the call from our principal: “How would you like to open a couple of golf schools in Guangzhou before we open the Core on Richmond Street?” [I thought], what’s a Guangzhou?”
Exciting. So in December 2004, I was introduced to Guangzhou, China. I taught most of the 30 kids on the Guangzhou Junior Team... Guan Tian Lang, Guan Ruqing (Guan’s cousin) and Feng Shanshan (the 2012 LPGA Championship winner). Guan (Langley) was six. He was a proud and happy little golf machine. He loved to show me his five distinct moves: Tiger, Ernie, Chris DiMarco, Jim Furyk and Langley himself. Langley was a cut above the rest including Feng Shanshan. The parents of these three kids are educated, bright, personable, and driven. The Guangzhou team was the best in the country. The kids would go straight to the range after school (4:30), eat dinner there and do their homework. They were home by 10 every night. By no means do these parents have PGA insights. The Guan and Feng parents are pretty good though, but they insist on focus and repetition.
I was in Guangzhou four years. I was offered the Academy at Sand River in Shenzhen in 2008. My wife and I spent most of one night at the Guan family home debating with them ....stay with Langley or go to the number one practice center in China? As the Chinese would say, something lost, something found.
I chose Sand River and am now in my fifth year. Sand River bought my Academy. I am now CEO of their golf division. So not a bad choice but in the past four years I have seen Langley only for family holidays and perhaps four lessons each year. (Webb said he has seen Guan only once in the last year)
When I was actively teaching Langley, our focus was short game and putting. I switched him to left hand low about four years ago. We employ the dominant core muscles in the stroke. We take the shoulders and right hand out. Langley implemented several swing concepts that I introduced, but there was reluctance to implement all. Every day Mom, Dad and son are together practicing. Dad will encourage and wipe his club clean after every shot. Usually he was very positive. Mom would sit in the background, perform logistical duties and offer pep talks at break intervals.
There has always been some internal debate within Team Langley as to whether or not he should undergo the significant swing changes I felt were / are necessary. Dad wants him to keep winning and not experience any lack of confidence [that] a significant new move might bring. He has over 230 tournament wins!!! So the confidence part is there. That’s good advice. As he gets bigger and longer though, the changes required will become obvious. It’s important that he stays “inside himself” and not compete for distance.
Mom agrees with [the necessity of] change. So I have taught Mom. She works with Langley. They work on muscle linkage selection changes. Dad manages strategy and practice sessions. They are an impressive team.
I caddied for Langley at the China Open last April. I was more nervous than he. In two days I would say he missed one shot from nerves or lack of focus, the first four-footer on the first hole. When he was six he had the demeanour of a PGA Tour player. He would calmly walk out a 50-yard approach shot to his landing area, calmly walk back, slowly adjust his sleeve, and execute. He showed tremendous focus, confidence and belief; at the Nicklaus and Tiger level, I feel.
I teach his cousin Guan Ruqing (Cindy), a year younger than he is. She has dominated girls’ golf in China these past seven years. Ranked number ne for her age and I believe the number four-woman amateur in China at age 13. They, Team Cindy, Dad and daughter, (Langley’s dad’s brother) are committing to our model. I am also the Head Coach of the Shenzhen Junior Team.
Enjoy Augusta. It could be a magical week. I just watched Langley’s interview on Masters.com. He’s such a good kid, so composed, and has great family.
I’ll certainly watch Langley at the Masters. Fourteen, and playing the Masters. It’s true.
I just ran into Sean Foley at the practice area. Guan’s mother was there and introduced herself to him. Meanwhile, Foley got a call the other day from a Nike representative who asked Foley if he would work with Guan. Foley said sure, and suggested to the fellow that he tell Guan’s parents that he’ll work with him on Saturday and Sunday. The fellow told Foley he can’t do that, because it will mean Foley is saying Guan will miss the cut. “He carries his drives 230,” Foley told me. “So yes, he’ll miss the cut.” Foley, understanding and compassionate fellow that he is, suggested the Nike guy present Foley’s offer to work with their son this weekend as an “option.” In any event, Guan will soon be working with Woods’s swing coach. The Masters is definitely the place to make connections.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein