U.S. Open: Amateur Pan plays through the pain
Cheng-Tsung Pan started a new life in a new country in 2007 at age 15. Two and a half years later, still adjusting to American culture, new relationships and a different golf instructor, the last thing he needed was his support system back home to come crashing down. Especially with no one by his side in Bradenton, Fla.
So when his father, Jung-Ho, died unexpectedly in Taiwan, in February 2010, Pan’s life crumbled.
Making the situation worse, no one in the U.S. knew about it. Pan kept it a secret that his rock, his foundation, had died. To him, it was just too personal.
In the three years since his loss, Pan quietly has persevered through the heartache, finishing the 2012-13 season as the 14th-ranked collegiate golfer on a strong Washington squad that advanced to the NCAA Championship.
Soon after his father’s death, Pan, then 18, had to make another tough decision: Return home for his father’s funeral – knowing that if he did, he might have to immediately serve a required stint in his country’s military – or stay in Florida.
He decided to focus on the game he loved – and it hurt.
“It was the lowest point in my life,” Pan said.
In Taiwan, all males must serve at least one year in the military between ages 18 and 35, unless attending a university overseas.
Since his family was back in Taiwan, he mourned the loss of his father alone.
“He keeps it all in,” Washington coach Matt Thurmond said of Pan.
Pan’s instructors at IMG Academy in Bradenton, like Thurmond, didn’t learn of Pan’s father’s death until about a year later. Thurmond found out from one of Pan’s friends.
“I’m a very private person, especially when it comes to family,” Pan said.
Pan still struggles with the loss because his father taught him the game. At age 5, Pan went with his brother, Fuehiang (they have four sisters, too), and their father to visit their mother at the National Garden Golf Club, where she worked as a caddie.
“Once there, we started having fun on the putting green,” Pan said. “This made my dad want to help us and learn the game of golf. Thus, he spent a lot of time studying golf magazines and golf teaching books.”
Success came quickly for Pan. He qualified for the Asian Games at age 14, and, at 15, finished runner-up to South Korean Kyung-tae Kim, who was 20.
“I gained confidence from that tournament, and I kept my momentum going,” Pan said.
The next spring, Pan qualified for the Volvo China Open. Though he missed the cut, Pan played against many of the top professionals from Asia and Europe.
“It taught me to compete (at) the upper level if you have chances,” he said.
Pan also reached the final eight at the 2007 U.S. Amateur at 15, making him the youngest quarterfinalist since 14-year-old Bobby Jones in 1916.
In December 2009, after more junior and amateur success, Pan gave a verbal commitment to Thurmond to play at Washington.
“I knew right away that this coach and this school was the best fit for me,” Pan said.
Pan’s first trip back to Taiwan after his father’s death was in summer 2011, just weeks before starting his career at Washington. Because he was enrolled in the university, he did not have to serve his military time.
In his first 11/2 seasons with the Huskies, Pan has won twice: the 2011 and ’12 Kikkor Golf Husky Invitationals. Pan finished in the top 3 in all four fall starts and recently was named to the watch list for the 2013 Ben Hogan Award.
“He putted so well this fall. It’s that simple,” Thurmond said. “He’s more developed as a putter (now) and is more consistent.”
Pan then finished second to 14-year-old Chinese player Tianlang Guan at the Asia-Pacific Amateur in November, missing a Masters invitation by one shot.
It was a role reversal for Pan, this time the elder to a teen sensation.
“I look at him and I see myself when I was that age,” Pan said. “No fear, good skills and just calm.”
Pan, who has not declared a major, intends to stay four years at Washington and graduate. If he decides to return to Taiwan, he would face military service. Regardless, he wants to play professionally, knowing full well that’s what his father wanted.
“Part of the reason I play golf is for him,” Pan said.“I keep it close to my heart that he taught me the game, so it’s the least I can do for him.”