Masters' stoicism on display with Guan penalty

In penalizing Tianlang Guan, 14, for slow play, the Masters' stoicism was on full display.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Golf can’t help itself.

The guys in charge make sure that you, Mr. Common Man, understand that anything outside the rigid parameters they set will not be tolerated.

Fun be damned, golf is about stoic decorum and a rule book that reads like something only Congress could produce.

If you had any doubt that competitive golf has all the charm of oral surgery, that was removed at Augusta National on Friday when the Masters Committeemen , a group clad in green jackets and perfect ties decided to remind everyone how pathetic the game is by bullying a 14 year old.  

In case you hadn’t heard, the Masters had its youngest participant this year when Tianlang Guan of Guangzhou, China qualified for an invitation by winning the Asian Amateur Championship. For days, Guan was the darling of the Masters, a public relations dream come true for a club that could always use some additional goodwill.

This year, they seemed to have everything working their favor.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, the club’s first two female members, made their green jacket debut. The golf course was perfect, the azaleas and dogwoods were in full bloom, the weather cooperated for the first two day and Tiger Woods played near perfect golf to climb to the top of the leaderboard. Throw in 53-year-old Fred Couples being in contention and the early-week announcement that Augusta National would open its doors to kids for the finals of the Drive, Pitch and Putt competition and this appeared to be a great week for the game.

Then the committeemen had to screw it up. 

After shooting 73 on Thursday and beating 13 major champions, the short-hitting Guan, an eighth-grader, played a little slower on Friday. That was understandable. He had a chance to make the cut at the Masters, win low amateur, and perhaps play late on Sunday. There is a miniscule number of 20 year olds who could handle that situation. For a 14 year old to be in that position was nothing short of extraordinary.

And while slow play is a pox on the game, with PGA Tour players grinding golf to an interminable halt most weekends, a little leeway could be given to a kid who was the center of attention.  

But not at Augusta.

After receiving a couple of warnings, Guan backed off his second shot into 17 when the wind changed. With a gray-haired, mustachioed European Tour rules official named John Paramor standing over him, Guan went back to the bag and changed clubs. That move put him over time.

Rather than pull the boy aside once more and say, “Get it in gear, young man,” or ask his playing partner Ben Crenshaw, who hugged the kid like a loving uncle all week, to spur him along, Paramor and the Committee gave Guan a one-shot penalty. And in so doing, the big brass of golf confirmed all the stereotypes the public has about the game.

Thankfully, Guan made the cut, locking up the low amateur medal as the only non-pro do play the weekend. Had he missed, the outcry would have certainly been greater.

But in one snap decision, the Masters Committeemen took all the hard work and goodwill they had built up and blew it to smithereens.   

All that was left was the statement by Competitions Committee Chairman Fred Ridley.

“Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for violation of Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the Tournament’s Pace of Play Policy,” Ridley wrote. “His group was deemed to be out of position on No. 10. Guan began being timed on Hole 12 and received his first warning on Hole 13 after his second shot. In keeping with the applicable rules, he was penalized following his 2nd shot on the 17th hole when he again exceeded the 40 second time limit by a considerable margin.” 

If golf has a shot clock, then it needs a three-point line as well. And if the men who run the game need to make an example of someone when it comes to pace of play, they might want to pick on someone other than an eighth-grade boy.  

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