Golf: Teen whizz Tianlang eyes Asian Games and focuses on long haul

SHENZHEN (AFP) - Masters sensation Guan Tianlang said he hopes to represent China at this year's Asian Games but pledged not to play too many big golf events this year as he focuses on building a long-term career.

The 15-year-old amateur shot a disappointing 76 in the Volvo China Open second round on Friday to miss the 145 cut by two shots, a far cry from his Masters exploits a year ago.

Last April at Augusta, Tianlang earned rave reviews when he became the youngest player to make the cut in a major championship, aged just 14 years and five months.

He followed that by reaching the weekend play at his next PGA event, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, but a missed cut at December's Hong Kong Open ended a breakthrough 2013 on a quiet note.

However, the Guangzhou schoolboy is confident he is on the right path, and he will play fewer professional tournaments this year as he carefully plots his road to success.

"I think definitely I'm making the right progress," said Tianlang at the Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen.

"Last year I had a great tournament (at the Masters) and lots of great experiences and this year I didn't want to play too many tournaments at first because it's still not the right time.

"Last year I played maybe 10 to 12. I played in a couple of really big ones so I got great experience from that," he added.

Tianlang appears comfortable in the spotlight and he was a star attraction at the 20th edition of China's national championship, a US$3.2 million (S$4 million) event co-sanctioned by the European Tour and OneAsia.

He opened with a solid one-under-par 71 on Thursday but struggled on the greens in round two, missing short putts for par at 18 and two and finishing with a four-over 76 to leave him at plus three.

"I'm a little bit disappointed, the swing just wasn't there," he said, adding that perhaps the lack of recent tournament practice was a factor.

But the great hope of Chinese golf is happy to bide his time, saying he has no immediate plans to turn professional and no target for when he'd like to break into the world's top ranks.

"I'm focusing back on my school and my body," the slight youngster said, referring to his attempts to bulk up in a bid to hit the ball further.

"I don't have any plans for a timetable yet. To keep playing in those high-level tournaments is wonderful so I don't start thinking about it yet."

He has stopped using a long-handled putter, which will be banned from 2016, and says he feels "confident" with the conventional length.

China is yet to have a truly recognisable golfing superstar - its highest players in the rankings currently are Liang Wenchong at 137th and Wu Ashun at 144th.

But at the China Open, top players Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter said it will not be long before that changes, with the world No. 3 singling out Tianlang for praise.

"When I first came here the local players were at the bottom of the results list but over the past few years the local players' results are getting better and better," the Swede said.

"We had a 14-year-old Chinese player making the cut at last year's Masters. If you had put me out at Augusta at the age of 14 I think 90 would have been a good score for me. It is very impressive in a short period of time."

Poulter said: "There will be a Chinese major champion. I am not saying that will be in two years or five years or 10 years but it is happening."

Tianlang hopes he will eventually be that champion, but for this year he is focusing on playing for China at the Asian Games in South Korea in September.

"I really wish I can play with my home country," he enthused. I'm not sure if I'll be selected but I'm hopeful."