By Brian Hewitt for GlobalGolfPost
A cooler head prevailed last week at the Magic Kingdom. And it had nothing to do with the outcome of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic or the final disposition of the PGA Tour money list.
This tempest in a tea kettle was all about a bunch of Mickey Mouse blowback from grownups because a 14-year-old Chinese boy had earned a spot in the 2013 Masters a week earlier.
When Guan Tianlang hung on to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur it was a cause for celebration in his homeland of China.
It was also apparently a cause for raised eyebrows, second-guessing and outright sniping thousands of miles away in the U.S., where more than one PGA Tour player questioned the legitimacy of Guan’s achievement.
Former PGA champion Steve Elkington wondered on Twitter why The Masters had approved a policy that allowed for a 14-year-old to play at Augusta.
Tommy Gainey, who won the McGladrey Classic last month but didn't receive a Masters invite because The Masters doesn’t recognize Fall Series winners, also spoke out.
“I feel like I deserve the opportunity as well,” Gainey said at Disney. “And him being 14, he’s young enough. He’s got plenty of time. But I’m 37.”
Never mind that few complained when accomplished Japanese amateur Hideki Matsuyama gained entry to The Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur in 2010 and 2011. Matsuyama made the cut at Augusta both years and was low amateur in 2011.
Never mind that Guan conquered a 2012 Asia-Pacific field that included Matsuyama.
And never mind that Guan wasn’t at Disney to defend himself.
That left it to Trevor Immelman, a former Masters champion and one of the coolest heads in all of golf, to make the teenager’s case.
And he did so clearheadedly.
“The Augusta National golf course and The Masters committee is always going to uphold the amateur game,” Immelman said Thursday at Disney. “They feel like it’s up to them, with the fame that they have and the notoriety they have, to try and do their part to grow the game.
“And they felt the best thing to do was to grow the game through the amateur ranks in Asia. So, I have absolutely no problem with this.”
Nevertheless, critics were clucking their tongues and insisting that Guan’s 250-yard drives won’t be nearly enough for the big ballpark that Augusta National has become at 7,435 yards.
To which Immelman shook his head.
“I played with Gary Player there once when he was 72 years old and we calculated that he couldn’t reach 11 of the par 4s,” Immelman said. “And he still shot 78 that day. I’m not worried about how this kid does.
“At the end of the day the rules were made. He won the tournament that gets him in. So for us to argue over whether he should be there or not is really irrelevant.”
Immelman, who will turn 32 next month, has battled injuries without complaint for several years. He arrived at Disney No. 126 on the money list and quietly reminded questioner after questioner that he was not on a top 125 bubble. His exemption from winning the 2008 Masters extends through 2013.
On Thursday, he found himself grinding over a five-footer on the final hole at the Magnolia Course. He made the putt, signed for 80 and politely shook the hands of his amateur playing partners.
Asked outside the scorer’s trailer to talk about Guan he was both patient and measured despite having just signed for an 8-over-par score.
Immelman was 19 at his first Masters and he, too, had qualified as an amateur by winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
“I think it’s a very good thing,” Immelman said. “At the end of the day the spirit of the tournament was really founded by Bob Jones, the greatest amateur of all time and maybe one of the greatest players of all time.”
Asked what advice he would offer Guan, if asked, Immelman said, “Playing The Masters is the most nervous a professional will be. So, he’ll definitely be nervous. But everybody will be.
“I think the media now is probably a little more intense now. And he will have a billion people from his own country following his progress. But he really has nothing to lose.
“He should just try to have fun. He’s only 14. It’s hard to say it will be the greatest experience of his life because he hasn’t been around that long. It’s going to be a lot for him, but he’ll be working hard between now and then and I think he’ll be ready to go.”
For years, the Lords of The Masters have been criticized on all sorts of issues. On occasion, they have deserved the criticism.
Allowing a 14-year-old Chinese youth to play in the 2013 Masters is not one of those occasions.
The Masters has made a clear and concerted effort at reaching out globally to grow the game. For this they should be commended.
And for his strong and eloquent support of Guan Tianlang, Trevor Immelman should be commended, too.
PHOTO: Associated Press