Martin Dempster: China making waves

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FIRST women members. Now children being let loose on the hallowed Augusta turf. It makes you wonder if those green-blazered Masters officials are starting to lose the plot.

The child in question, of course, is Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old from China, who secured a prized spot in the opening major of next year after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand at the weekend.

He will become the youngest-ever competitor in the event and can expect to be in the spotlight as well next year at Muirfield, having also earned a place in the Open Championship field on the East Lothian coast.

Guan’s achievement comes five months after his compatriot, Andy Zhang, played in the US Open at the same age and, by the looks of things, this is just the start of China really starting to make its mark in terms of providing potential golfing superstars.

Golf remains largely an elitist sport in China. Yet, with the number of courses in that country reported to have increased from 170 to nearly 600 in the last eight years, it is certainly starting to build up a head of steam.

In the women’s game, Korea currently has four players in the top ten, 36 in the top 100 and 142 in the top 500. With Liang Wen-Chong at 231st – five spots below Scotland’s Chris Doak – the highest-ranked Chinese player in the men’s game, it still clearly has some catching up to do there.

But, with talent like Guan and Zhang coming through – and they, of course, are benefitting from spells at top-class academies in America – it seems inevitable that China will have someone challenging Rory McIlroy, or whoever the incumbent is, to be world No 1 in the not-too-distant future.