Sports where puberty is a disadvantage

Typically adults are better than kids at most sports, but you could argue that’s not the case in diving (smaller bodies = less splash), gymnastics (younger athletes = more flexible) and now you can add golf to the list – or at least golf in China.

Always remember to hold the backswing for the cameras…

First there was 14-year-old Andy Zhang who gained a last-minute entry into the 2012 US Open as second alternate after Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey both withdrew through injury. Then there was 13-year-old Guan Tianlang who played in last year’s China Open, a European Tour event, and will tee off at the Masters next week at the ripe old age of 14. And now there is Ye Wocheng, a 12-year-old who will next month break Guan’s record as the youngest to play on the European Tour.

Bold prediction: Guan won’t win the Masters, but he won’t embarrass himself. Given that he drives the ball about 100 yards short of some of the others, it would be a phenomenal performance just to finish above the bottom 10 in the field, let alone make the cut. But the kid’s got game: his 2-under-par 70 in the second round of last year’s Australian Open was bettered by only 15 players in a field of more than 150.

He’s also been having a whale of time gearing up for it, hanging out with Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler during practice rounds at Augusta, and lining up practice rounds with Tom Watson and Nick Faldo for next week’s schedule.

Guan Tianlang with Rickie Fowler at Augusta National

He even posted his first tweet this week, saying how nice everyone had been to him, but quickly deleted it when he realized his picture was upside down.

Meanwhile, Zhang’s aim is to make the US Open again this year, and he’s been helped in his quest by invitations over the past 12 months to tournaments such as the Korea Open, the European Masters in Switzerland and the Australian Open.

But youngest of the lot is Ye, who qualified for next month’s China Open with ease, winning one of three qualifying spots at a tournament in Chengdu, despite drawing a two-shot penalty with three holes left to play.

Ye’s response? “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a boy.” The world’s response? “But you’re still a boy!”

Guan Tianlang posing with Nick Faldo

The trio of youngsters probably won’t win a tournament between them for a few years yet, but, if the Junior World Golf Championships is any guide, expect an Asian invasian soon: last year, 11 out of 12 age groups at the finals in San Diego were won by Asians or players of recent Asian descent. The year before it was nine.

Alright, so the adults are still better than the kids in golf, but maybe not for much longer. The girls have already made a breakthrough, now it’s time for the boys to do the same. And while we’re on the topic, this video of swimmer Michael Phelps playing golf in China is worth a look.

6 thoughts on “Sports where puberty is a disadvantage”

  1. We Americans who have kids playing in Junior World seriously question the ages of many Asian competitors. My son asked one supposed 10 year-old last year at the Welk course how old he was. He didn’t know (and he spoke English quite well). My son asked when he turned 11. He gave one answer, then changed it. Many good American players have had it with Junior World, which doesn’t even attempt to verify age, unlike US Kids. If any reasonable person saw some of the 5′ 9″, 160 pound, well-muscled, 285 yard-bashing “12 year-olds”, they’d understand.

    1. Thanks for your comment and interesting point. Age verification is something that has dogged the Chinese for years, much of it for good reason (eg Olympic gymnastics). It’s easy, for example, to get an official ID here with a wrong date of birth and I know several first-hand examples of where that has happened. However, a few points of caution:
      1. Chinese turn a year older on Jan 1, so even if you don’t turn 11 until July 1, many people still say they are 11 before this. I don’t know the specifics of your case, but it’s possible that this caused confusion as the kid may have switched between the Chinese and the western way.
      2. Chinese would, on average, tend to be smaller than their US/western counterparts, but as Yao Ming shows, in a country of 1.3 billion, bigger/taller exceptions do exist. I would point to Guan Tianlang as an example: he’s the best of the bunch and just to look at him, no one would question he’s older than 14.
      3. It’s a real shame that Junior World doesn’t check on this – or at least try, as you say – but lying about your age now won’t help much at later levels. Yes, there is a chance you could win a scholarship unfairly if you manage to fool the school as well, but I don’t think that in itself would really make the difference between “making it” and not.

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