SIMON LEWIS: No guarantee Guan will be future star

Homework waits for no child, even if you have just become low amateur at the Masters.

Such is life for 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, China’s Asia-Pacific Amateur champion whose victory in that tournament earned him a spot in the opening Major of the year, making him the youngest competitor in Masters history.

His terrific showing at Augusta National and his amazing level of maturity, even in the face of a one-stroke penalty for slow play during the second round, have been well documented, but where does this all leave the teenage prodigy as he returns to his schoolwork and how can we be sure he will be able to transform his obvious golfing gifts into a meaningful career?

The simple answer is, of course, that we cannot.

Guan’s ambition is to complete the grand slam of winning four Majors in the same calendar year. I wanted to be an astronaut at 14 but it hasn’t happened yet (NASA, I’m available, call me).

A lot can happen to a kid during his or her teenage years and sport is littered with the broken dreams of child prodigies who cracked in the pressure cooker atmosphere and physically demanding nature of professional sport.

In tennis, Jennifer Capriati had the tennis world at her feet in her teens but failed to deliver on that youthful promise. She returned to the headlines last month when charged with stalking and battery in an alleged assault of ex-boyfriend Ivan Brannan.

Andrea Jaeger was world No 2 by age 16 and retired by 18, the victim of a debilitating shoulder injury, yet she is now happily living life as a Dominican nun in Colorado.

Hawaiian golfer Michelle Wie became the youngest golfer ever to make the cut at an LPGA Tour event at the age of 13. It was a Major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and she scored a top-10 finish. By age 14, she had finished in the top 20 in six of the seven LPGA events she entered that year, including a top-four finish at the Kraft Nabisco, and by early 2004, still 14, Wie competed in the men’s PGA Sony Open at Waialae in her native Hawaii, missing the cut by only one shot having become the first woman to shoot a sub-par round, a 68, in a sanctioned men’s PGA Tour event.

She turned pro at 16. Ten years on from her introduction to the golfing headlines at age 13, Wie has indeed remained a pro but it has not been an easy life.

She has won a couple of events, in 2009 and 2010, but she has not lived up the billing her potential promised as the female Tiger Woods and having missed 10 cuts in 23 starts last year she is not ready to rival the current stars of the LPGA, let alone its greats like Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa. Then again, nor did she promise to. The hype came from those around her, the publicity machine, the equipment sponsors and a media eager to buy into such promise.

Wie, meanwhile, dropped out of the Tour full-time and went to Stanford University, Woods’ alma mater, coincidentally, and enjoyed the normal student life that any young adult could wish for. She is, by all reports, equally happy as an LPGA Tour player, a better than average LPGA Tour player, but not a dominant one.

And that should be enough to make us happy for her. We can only hope Tinalang Guan is equally as content 10 years from now.

He certainly appears to be mature enough to make the right decisions, and when asked on Sunday night whether he had any intentions of turning pro Guan replied: “I’ve not decided yet, but it won’t be too early because there’s still a lot of things to learn to improve. So nothing to rush.”

Sounds like a good kid, as long as people remember he is still just that, a kid.

Fitzgerald follows his heart but brave effort falls short of American dream

Sometimes dreams don’t have to come true to make the journey a satisfying one and that is certainly the way Andrew Fitzgerald feels after an unsuccessful yet life-affirming trip to the PGA Canadian Tour qualifying school in California last week.

The Corkman and former Monkstown member, who emigrated to the west coast with his wife Jane to pursue a new life, decided to follow an ambition to try and make it onto a professional tour and after three healthy stabs at PGA Tour tournament pre-qualifying, signed up for Q-school, even ditching his new job in San Diego in pursuit of his goals.

With Jane acting as his caddie in northern California, Fitzgerald finished 247th out of 312 hopefuls, some way short of earning a life-changing tour card but feeling all the better for it.

“Well, after six days, 28 hours of golf, scores of 83, 83, 81 and 78, 25 miles walked, blisters on my feet, fog delays, temperatures of 82 degrees and 40mph winds, I completed my ‘Everest’ of the Q School,” he said.

“While I didn’t get the result I wanted, or played as well as I can, I am very grateful for hanging in there, as well as having the guts to do it and keep going while other people dropped out.

“It was the best experience of my life, and I still love the game!

“Jane was superb as caddie and we had a great week, a lot of fun and also met some great characters along the way.”

Level par would have earned Fitzgerald a tour card for the upcoming season and, he added: “I got to see first-hand how high the standard is and to see some guys who are just gifted at the game. I have learned a lot about my own game and myself which will stand to me for the rest of my life. I have created some great memories which I will cherish forever.”

Fitzgerald thanked his family and friends for the huge level of support they offered him from afar as well as his fellow competitors.

“I played with a guy who lives 20 minutes from Augusta National. He told me he has had the opportunity to play it a few times, but turned them down as when he does play he wants it to be in the actual Masters Tournament. That sums up the type of characters I met this week, all chasing a dream and the self belief from them all was incredible.”

Fitzgerald, a former Heineken Ireland sales rep in Cork, now begins the task of trying to continue his golfing ambitions while returning to the Californian workforce.

“I am going to relax for the next few days, reflect on the past week and see where to go next. There are a lot of opportunities out here so I’m not sure yet where I am headed. If I could marry my sales experience with my passion for golf and secure a reps job with one of the big golf companies out here, then that would be superb. But those jobs are hard to get.

“Also, Jane and I would like to do some more travelling and exploring the States, so who knows where we will end up. It’s all very positive for us both.”

We can only wish them all the best.

Young guns catch fire at Old Course

Success may have eluded Ireland’s four competitors at the Masters last weekend, but there was better news closer to these shores from the Home of Golf.

Irish duo Gary Hurley and Paula Grant won their respective categories in an international field at the 2013 R&A Foundation Scholars’ Tournament at St Andrews last week.

West Waterford’s Hurley secured the men’s title after winning the first hole of a sudden death play-off against Scotsman Craig Howie from the University of Stirling. Hurley, 20, is a Paddy Harrington scholar at NUI Maynooth and helped NUIM cement their reputation as a formidable presence in collegiate and national golf with a hand in their Barton Shield success last September during the Chartis GUI Cups and Shields national finals at Kinsale Golf Club.

At St Andrews in the play-off Hurley rolled in a five-foot par putt on the first hole of the Old Course and claimed victory when Howie missed his slightly shorter putt. The pair had finished the three-round strokeplay event tied on 211. Two shots back in a four-way tie for fourth place were Ulster’s Tiarnan McLarnon and Grant, the latter claiming the women’s competition as a result.

Hurley’s victory also secured his place in the European Palmer Cup team to play the USA in the collegiate version of the Ryder Cup this June at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware.

Hurley said: “I wanted to win to make the team and not have to leave it up for selection. I have won university events at home but this is a bigger win for me. When I was playing the 18th I didn’t know my putt was to win so I was more cautious than I would have been had I known. I made up my mind that if I had a putt to win in the play-off I wouldn’t hold back. My putt on the first green rolled a few feet past but fortunately I was able to hole the one coming back.”

Women’s champion Grant, the 2011 Irish Girls’ champion, won the women’s event by one shot from two-time winner Kelsey Macdonald of Stirling. The 19-year-old from Lisburn holed a long putt across the Old Course’s 18th green to seal the victory after a round of 77, her two opening rounds of 68 on the Eden course having laid the foundation for the win.

“This was my first time playing the Old Course and I was so nervous,” Grant said. “I hit a nice four-iron on the first tee and that settled me down a bit. It has been incredible to play here and this is a great event. It is my first win overseas and I will be looking forward to playing in it again.”

Busy year for Lisburn members

Paula Grant’s success comes in the same yearthat fellow Lisburn club member, Ivor McCandless, is serving as GUI president. McCandless last week performed the arduous but well-earned annual presidential duty of attending the Masters as a guest of Augusta National Golf Club.

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