Masters' Payne proud of Asian Amateur success

Tianlang Guan after his final round at the 2013 Masters.

Sometimes, predictions aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

Take the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, and his chances to make the cut at the Masters. When the amateur event was established in 2009, Masters chairman Billy Payne said the tournament committee anticipated it would take six to seven years before the winner, who is awarded an invite to the Masters, would make the cut.

“And, of course, it happened almost immediately,” Payne said.

On Oct. 27, a fifth tournament champion will be crowned in China and invited to compete as an amateur at Augusta National. It will be hard to match the accomplishments of their predecessors. Japanese trailblazer Hideki Matsuyama, who won the APAC back-to-back in 2010 and 2011, was the first winner to play the weekend at the 2010 Masters.

Matsuyama, ranked No. 29 in the Official World Golf Rankings, continues to reach new heights as one of professional golf’s emerging stars and represented the International team at the Presidents Cup earlier this month. Count Payne among Matsuyama’s most ardent supporters during the Cup.

“He's a graduate of this program,” Payne said, “and I was very proud.”

This year, most golf observers expected the reigning APAC champ, Tianlang Guan of China, weighing in at 125 pounds soaking wet and with an average drive of 250 yards, would be overmatched. Break 80 at Augusta? If he’s lucky. The cut? Impossible. It turned out they underestimated the poise and potential of the 14-year-old wunderkind. He became one of the highlights of the golf year when he made the cut at the Masters.

“Mr. Guan has proven to all of us, that heroes can be of every age,” Payne said. “And he's been an inspiration, not only to hundreds of millions of kids here in China but honestly to all of us. We were very proud not only of his performance, but of the way he conducted himself and so wonderfully represented the country of China.”

To Payne, the bold decision to grant a Masters invitation to the winner of the APAC has highlighted the depth of talent that already exists in the Asian-Pacific region and likely will continue to blossom.

“I think it's done what we hoped it would do, and that is to interest young kids all throughout Asia to become interested in the game,” Payne said. “We thought the best way to do that was to showcase some of the wonderful talent that exists here. And I think we have all been a bit surprised, because we in such short a time produced some really great champions, and I think it's really just the beginning.”

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