China slow to warm to golf prodigy

Young teen sensation may have stunned the world with his Masters debut, but back home golf remains a minority sport.

    China slow to warm to golf prodigy
    The 14-year-old Asia-Pacific Amateur champion enjoyed his first major championship debut in which he suffered no three-putts and nothing worse than a bogey on his scorecards [AFP]

    Chinese golf prodigy Guan Tianlang stunned the world with his historic debut at the Masters, but the 14-year-old's star is only just beginning to shine in his home country.

    Despite leaving an indelible mark on the tournament as its youngest ever player and the youngest to make the cut, the schoolboy had a respectable, if not major impact on China's media and popular Internet chat rooms.

    Only a fraction of Chinese sports fans follow golf, which remains a minority sport played largely by the country's emerging affluent class. Due to the 12-hour time difference, the Masters also took place overnight in China.

    Low profile

    While the state-run Global Times carried a prominent story on pages one and two of its English-language edition on Monday, many Chinese-language newspapers instead focused on domestic football and Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

    The Global Times article carried an interview with an academic which highlighted Guan's training background, which was outside the traditional state-run system which produces most of China's sporting stars.

    "Sports enthusiasts can achieve success and fulfilment through different channels, such as sports clubs, college training or even individual training supported by the family," Ren Hai, a professor at Olympic studies at Beijing Sport University told the newspaper.

    "It's an encouraging trend in line with China's general development."

    Guan, from the southern province of Guangdong, posted a message on his verified account on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on Saturday, thanking his parents and saying he hopes to "continue to create miracles".

    The message was re-posted some 1,300 times by 1:00 pm on Monday (0600 GMT).

    China's sporting superstars commonly have several million followers on the popular website, with Olympic champion swimmer Sun Yang attracting some 12 million. Guan currently has 28,000 followers.

    But his achievements at the Masters occasionally made it into Weibo's list of 'hot topics' over the weekend.

    Guan carded rounds of 73, 75, 77 and 75 at par-72 Augusta National, without one double-bogey or three-putt, in a performance which earned him resounding praise along with the Silver Cup as the Masters' best-placed amateur.

    "I think it will invite more young kids in China to start playing golf and it's really helpful. I look forward to it," said the teenager, who has said he will also try to qualify for the US and British Opens.



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