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Learning process continues for Guan

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Cotton-candy shaped clouds, dark and heavy with rain, drifted over the Muirfield Village Golf Club just as 14-year-old Guan Tianlang completed his second -- and, as it turned out, final -- round of the Memorial Tournament.

The Chinese amateur missed the cut, which means the Guan Across America Tour moves to Memphis, Tenn., and the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Oreo milkshakes this week in the Muirfield players' dining room, dry rub barbecue and Graceland next week in River City.

Guan and his parents have basically lived out of their suitcases since they arrived in the States from Guangzhou 10 weeks ago for the Masters. It must be a weird existence, caroming from Augusta to New Orleans (Zurich Classic) to Orlando (some swing work with Sean Foley) to Dallas (HP Byron Nelson Championship) to Columbus and now to Memphis. One of these days, they'll return to China.

"I'm not sure yet," Guan said of his future schedule. "But I will go back to China some[time] in the summer."

His English, his physique and his golf game all have gotten stronger since he landed at the Atlanta airport in mid-March -- not that the Memorial cut line cared. He shot 72-79, which put him at 7 over par for the tournament. Buh-bye.

"I think I got better and better as I played those PGA Tour events and got more comfortable in the big tournaments," Guan said. "Yeah, I think I got better and better, but I'm still focusing on my own game."

Golf factoid: Including the Masters and through Memphis, Guan will have played in more tour events than Tiger Woods or Masters champion Adam Scott. He's soaking in every moment, every experience, every success and every failure. And on this level, where golf is crueler than Voldemort, there are more failures than successes.

Justin Bolli, who has been grinding since 1999 to escape the Web.com Tour for good, was one of Guan's playing partners during the first two rounds. If anybody understands the realities of this game, it is Bolli, who finished three shots behind Guan.

"He's probably not quite ready to play out here yet," Bolli said. "He can make the cut, sure, but I don't think he's quite capable of winning yet. But he's only 14. When I was 14, I was trying to make my high school team."

I was buying Clearasil at 14. Guan has already played in three PGA Tour events and became the youngest competitor in Masters history. Is that any good?

He hasn't had the same caddie twice since playing in the States. He hires locals, and this week it was Scott Lubin, who caddied for Memorial founder and host Jack Nicklaus for seven years and recently has been working the Web.com circuit. Lubin knows talent when he sees it.

"He's just a special talent," Lubin said. "This kid has a lot of potential."

Potential guarantees nothing. But Guan isn't here to win tournaments. He's here on the ultimate golf field trip, all with a permission slip from his parents. He studies his schoolwork. He plays basketball with the kids of a local Chinese family. He chills.

It is a delicate dance of sorts. His father has coached him for years, but will he relinquish control and let someone such as Foley -- who works with Woods, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose, among others -- retool Guan's swing? Will the Guans eventually move to the States full time? Will he turn pro before he's handed a high school diploma?

There is no rush. Or at least, there shouldn't be. Guan should do what he's doing: play in tough conditions, on tough courses, against tough players.

"The more feathers in his cap, the better," Lubin said.

As his chances of making the cut slipped away Friday, Guan plopped himself on a wooden bench on the No. 8 tee box (he started on the back nine) and yawned. It had been a long morning, a long week and a long few months.

Flecks of dried sunscreen dotted his hair. As he waited for the group ahead to finish, he studied his yardage book. It didn't matter. His tee shot on the windblown par-3 landed in a deep front bunker. He tapped the grip of his club on the ground in disappointment.

It was a 36-yard bunker shot. Guan hit it to 5 feet.

"That's a pro shot," a fan muttered to his buddy. "Man."

Guan made the par putt but ended his tournament on No. 9 with a bogey. As he walked off the green toward the scorer's building, the gallery politely applauded. One woman approached Guan's father, Hanwen, and said, "You should be very, very proud."

Hanwen nodded his head, but he was still bemoaning his son's efforts on the Muirfield greens. Thirty-four putts. Too many.

"Putting," Hanwen said. "You always need putting."

If Guan was upset by his Friday 79, he didn't show it. He said he hit a lot of good shots but was undone by the wind and a handful of loose swings. It happens.

"I've learned a lot," Guan said. "But still a lot more to learn."

Someone asked him about his milkshake preferences. His eyes lit up.

Just like a 14-year-old.