MORRISSEY: By penalizing eighth-grader, Masters shows it doesn’t get it
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com April 12, 2013 11:26PM
Ben Crenshaw (left) was worried about an international incident when Guan Tianlang was penalized a stroke for slow play. | Getty Images
Updated: May 14, 2013 6:23AM
AUGUSTA, Ga. — We’re dealing with a 14-year-old kid here. Let’s start with that.
Try to remember what you were like when you were 14. Just because Guan Tianlang has been blessed with exceptional golf skills at a young age doesn’t change the fact that he’s lacking worldliness and perhaps maturity. If, during his round Friday, he had been fretting over how to work up the nerve to start a conversation with a girl back home, you’d understand.
On the other side, we’re dealing with Augusta National, the place where having a clue goes to die. It took the club eons to allow female members. Totalitarian China has some work to do if it wants to catch up with the people who run this tournament.
I happened to be at the 18th tee Friday when Ben Crenshaw approached a friend of his who was standing near me.
“We’ll have an international incident,’’ Crenshaw said under his breath. “We just got penalized there for slow play.’’
This was big news because one of the players he was referring to was Guan, the eighth-grader from China who has become the darling of this year’s Masters.
My first thought was, “Of all the people they could choose to assess a one-stroke penalty to, they choose the feel-good story of the tournament?’’ That was my second thought, too, and, come to think of it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking it.
Guan was penalized one stroke on the 17th hole, dropping him from 3 over to 4 over for the tournament. He spent Friday afternoon and evening wondering whether his 73-75 total would make the cut. It did, but not before the people who run this show reminded us again just how tone deaf they can be. As if we needed a reminder.
Did I say Guan might be lacking maturity? I could be wrong.
“I respect the decision they made,’’ he said. “I think they should do it because it’s fair to everybody.’’
But asked whether he was slower than other players, he said, “I don’t think I’m too bad.’’
John Paramor, a rules official from the European Tour, said he talked to Guan about his slow play four times on the back nine. As Guan was walking to the 17th green, Paramor informed him that he was being assessed a one-stroke penalty.
“This isn’t going to end up pretty, I don’t think,’’ Crenshaw said immediately after his round. “I’m sick. I’m sick for him. He’s 14 years old. When you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot.’’
Neither Crenshaw nor Matteo Manassero, the other member of the threesome, was penalized.
“The way it is now, with this problem in general with slow play, rules officials are very strict,’’ Manassero said.
Um, not really. The last time a player was penalized for slow play on the PGA Tour was 1995.
At one point, Guan’s threesome was 25 minutes behind the group in front of it, which sounds bad, until you realize that the group behind Guan never had to wait to take a shot. In other words, lots of people were slow.
There are rules and then there is the right thing to do.
Afterward, Paramor stood with a big stopwatch around his neck, looking very much like the Tin Man with a new heart. I asked him whether he took into consideration Guan’s age when making his decision.
“No,’’ he said. “It’s the Masters.’’
Officials had the leeway to reverse Paramor’s decision but declined. It’s the Masters, indeed.
Players have 40 seconds to take a swing once they address the ball. Guan admitted he took a lot of time on the par-three 16th hole because the wind was so unpredictable. Manassero had already hit his ball into the water on the hole.
“If I had taken more time on 16, I would have saved two shots, as well,’’ Manassero said.
Point taken. The kid was slow. But you have to decide what word is most important in that last sentence. I’d choose “kid.’’ The Masters, lacking even a thimbleful of compassion, chose “slow.’’
“I learned a lot,’’ Guan said.
Unfortunately, the Masters people haven’t.
The last few years, Augusta National has made a big deal about developing the sport in China. Guan, the winner of the Asian-Pacific Amateur Championship last year, represented the first real fruits of that initiative.
There was no international incident, but there had to be some head-scratching in China.