Golf: Teen Masters sensation Guan happy to play long game

Guan Tianlang of China.

SHENZHEN, China - The presence of Bubba Watson in China just days after he passed on the green jacket to Jordan Spieth meant the Masters was the talk of the town as the Shenzhen International began Thursday.

But there is another player at the inaugural European Tour event in the southern Chinese city who will forever be linked to Augusta National, even though a low-key approach to his career has seen him almost fall off the radar since making a record-breaking Masters debut in 2013.

Aged 14 years and five months, China's Guan Tianlang was the youngest golfer to play a major and made the cut before finishing as the tournament's leading amateur with a four-round total of 12 over par, 21 strokes behind the winner Adam Scott of Australia.

Guan admitted there had then been suggestions to turn professional, but his education had to come first.

'No hurry' to turn pro

"The idea of me turning pro was just other people talking," he said at Genzon Golf Club ahead of his first round on Thursday.

"I knew I would be just going back to school. I am happy to take things slowly as I know I have time on my side. There's no need to hurry." Guan said watching the 21-year-old Spieth storm his way to a record-equalling 18-under-par at Augusta this year had brought back fond memories.

"It was the best week of my career so far," said Guan, who has now reached the grand old age of 16. "I learned a lot from the best players in the world and it really built my confidence. This is something I can carry around forever." Guan had turned to three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo for advice before his Augusta debut, made possible by winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Championship in Thailand.

But nothing could have fully prepared him for what lay in store - practice rounds with Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw, constant media attention, and a harsh one-stroke penalty for slow play during the second round.

"I was just focused on my game and thinking about the things I could control," said Guan. "There is so much going on, that it is important not to lose focus. I was trying to play my own game but also learn from everything and everyone I saw around me."

Hitting the gym

Guan said he had looked on in awe at the distances some of the Masters field drove the ball, so as well as hitting the books at Guangzhou Zhixin Middle School he has been taking to the gym to try to match it with the big guns.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Guan. "I have been training pretty hard on the golf course and in the gym. I'm feeling pretty comfortable now. I think I am hitting the ball a lot further now... from work in the gym, not on my swing. My short game and putting are my strengths at the moment." Guan said that until he graduates from high school he will continue to pick up tournament places via amateur qualification and sponsor invites. He made the cut at his previous European Tour event, the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January, finishing at one-over par.

"I have been mixing it up - next week I play the Volvo China Open in Shanghai and then a few European Tour events and maybe a few on the China Tour," he said.

"I still have to go to school so I just don't want to play too much. At this stage of my life I have to plan for a long career ahead of me."