Mission Hills never misses an opportunity to promote junior golf. Accordingly, Chinese amateur sensation Guan Tianlang will join World No. 1 Tiger Woods and two-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a Skills Challenge before the two established mega-stars head out for The Match at Mission Hills, to be held over the Blackstone Course at Mission Hills Haikou on Oct. 28.
Guan, who made Masters history earlier this year competing as a 14 year old and making the cut on golf's biggest stage — recently sat down with Mandarin Media's Hal Phillips for an exclusive interview, below. Guan will join his idols in a Skills Challenge on the practice range, as part of the warm-up prior to The Match. He will arrive in Haikou fresh from defending his title at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, where he will seek to secure another Masters invitation. Prior to The Match, all three players will simultaneously engage with what organizers expect to be a massive group of aspiring young golfers, in town for a junior tournament at Mission Hills Haikou Oct. 26-27. It's a step through the looking glass for Guan, a Guangzhou native who has been a regular at Mission Hills youth tournaments since 2008.
Q: You are quite famous, internationally, following your performance at the Masters in April 2013. Tell us what you've been doing since that time.
GL: The Masters did make me better known than before. I played several PGA Tour events after The Masters, including the Zurich Classic, HP Byron Nelson Championship, The Memorial, and FedEx St. Jude Classic — before taking the whole summer off for fitness training and catching up with school work. I played one Japan Tour event, the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta, after coming back from the States. Now I am going to school as a normal student and getting ready for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in late October.
Q: The slow-play penalty you incurred during the second round at The Masters gained a lot of attention, as well. How do you view that episode now? Do you play faster, or do you think the penalty was perhaps unfairly applied?
GL: As I said back then, I respect the decision and I accept it completely. It was a tough day. The weather was bad and it took more time to make the right decision, and you know, it's The Masters! I have a good routine and I haven't changed much because of the penalty. But yes, I do pay more attention to my pace and I think I have been doing well on that part. Overall, it was a very valuable experience.
Q: Describe your history with Mission Hills. You have worked on your game there? Competed in tournaments here?
GL: I have participated in more than 10 junior golf tournaments hosted by Mission Hills, since I was seven. And I won several championships there. The courses are beautiful and challenging. Actually the second time I met Tiger Woods was at Mission Hills Shenzhen. A great memory.
Q: There are many courses at Mission Hills — 12 in Shenzhen and 10 on Hainan Island. Which is your favorite course?
GL: My favorite one must be the Mission Hills Norman Course. But I haven't been to the Haikou Mission Hills. I hear it is amazing and can't wait to play there!
Q: You will appear at a junior clinic and skills challenge prior to Tiger Woods' and Rory McIlroy's Match at Mission Hills on Oct. 28. You already have a history with both players.
GL: Yes, I've met both of them before. I met Tiger at the HSBC Championship when I was 12, and we played a par-3 hole together. Met him the second time at Mission Hills Shenzhen and received a trophy from him. And, of course, I got to play with him for 9 holes at Augusta National on the Tuesday of the Masters; it was a dream come true, as everyone knows he is my idol. I haven't played with Rory before but we had a nice chat at the Masters. He was very supportive and said he wasn't as good as me when he was 14. He is humble and a very sweet guy. A great player as well!
Q: Have you attended similar junior clinics as a spectator? If so, what did you take away from the experience?
GL: I have attended some junior golf clinics, when I was younger. The one hosted by Mission Hills with Tiger Wood was one. I can't say how much in terms of golfing skills I have learned from the instructor, but I shall say the whole experience did inspire and motivate me to practice harder and become a better golfer.
Q: Was Tiger Woods always role model for you? Are you old enough to have the same thoughts about Rory McIlroy?
GL: Tiger Woods has always been my idol. I believe he is the role model as a golfer for many, many people out there. Look at him: He won 5 PGA Tour events in one year and he is now the world No.1. He is the greatest player of his time and perhaps will become the greatest of all time soon. Rory is such a mature and great player. I can see how much more I need work on myself — to grow into a player like him. Both of them are the players I look up to. I'm very excited to get the chance to challenge them.
Q: What advice did Tiger give you during that Masters practice round — anything that helped you during the tournament, or with your golf going forward?
GL: Yes, it was a great experience and probably the most nervous 9 holes in my life. He is my idol, after all. We did chat a bit during the practice round and also off the course. Lots of advice. But the one piece, as other great golfers also offered to me, is enjoying your game and embracing your experience at The Masters. It was my first Masters journey, and I hope there will be many more coming.
Q: You turn 15 on Oct. 25, just before The Match at Mission Hills. You remain a young man, but do you feel as if golf is more popular today, in China, than it was five years ago? If so, how can you tell?
GL: I believe so, absolutely. First of all, you can see more and more media are paying attention to the sport. Second, more and more juniors start to pick up the game, which makes the future of golf in China very promising. The golf community in China is expanding with its addition to the 2016 Olympic. Golf will become more and more popular here for sure. It is a great sport, why not?
Q: When will American golf fans see you again? Does your tournament schedule bring you to North America in 2014?
GL: I hope everyone who supports me will watch me and root for me when I play other events outside the U.S., such as Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Augusta National is an organizer [winning this event last year earned Guan his Masters place in 2013] and it is the best amateur event in the region. I am going back to defend my title and I hope they will be watching. I haven't planned any tournaments in North American next year. Hopefully I will win my ticket back to 2014 Masters.