Last summer, after Cheng-Tsung Pan found himself in contention in the U.S. Open, Washington coach Matt Thurman expected to receive a phone call from Pan, saying he would forgo his final two college seasons and turn professional.
However, his eventual tie for 45th at Merion Golf Club had the opposite effect on Pan. He returned to his native Taiwan to restructure his swing and add muscle to his 5-foot-7-inch frame.
“It validated his game,” Thurmond said. “It was the highest moment of his career, and instead of turning pro, he had to retool his swing.”
Pan returned to Seattle for his junior year and won once last season among three top-5 finishes and was No. 33 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
“I just never thought I was good enough to be with those guys (professionals),” said Pan, who led the Huskies to a No. 8 final ranking.“College provides the perfect environment to get better, and I just never felt ready. And I want to feel ready for the first try (at Q-School), because the first try is huge. If you make it, it will affect your future after that.I just want to make sure I’m ready for it and don’t rush it.”
It’s also a point of pride for Pan, 22 , a senior studying communications, that he would be the first family member to graduate from college.
Now, with the experience of three major championships (he missed cuts in the 2011 U.S. Open and the ’14 Open Championship), Pan hopes to lead the Huskies toward their first Pac-12 title since 2010.
“I do things for the team,” he said, “and always make the team my first priority.”
“Everyone thinks you need to go south or to a school that has a historically strong golf program, but you can find one right in your backyard,” Virginia’s McCarthy said. “I did it.”
McCarthy, a senior from Rockville, Md., who tied for sixth at the 2014 NCAAs, proved doubters wrong by leading the Cavaliers to a No. 17 ranking last season.
“It’s a good thing golf doesn’t have names on the back of shirts because the logo, you have on yourselves,” said the semifinalist at the recent U.S. Amateur.
A Californian, Campbell saw an opportunity for personal and competitive growth in the Midwest.
Campbell, of Irvine, leads an Illini team that could complete the unfinished business of the past two NCAA Championships: runner-up in 2013 and a quarterfinalist in 2014.
Campbell sees his role as instilling confidence in his teammates: “Breeding the guys that come in with my same mentality and the atmosphere we have on the team, everything from how we work to what we do and that you’re going to get better by staying confident.”
J. T. Poston
Poston has learned two key facets of the game in tiny Cullowhee, N.C., that he might not have discovered elsewhere: how to practice and what parts of his game need attention – short game and putting – so that he can succeed as a professional.
Although WCU is not a traditional golf power, Poston, of Hickory, N.C., thinks the Catamounts can compete with the big names on any given day.
“If I can do that individually, who says we can’t as a team?” he said.
Poston, a finance major who ended last season at No. 24 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, has two primary goals this year: win the Southern Conference team title and be named an All-American.
– Cassie Stein
Lee knows how quickly plans can change. Three years ago, she arrived at UCLA as a highly sought freshman from Silverdale, Wash., with a tentative plan: two years with the Bruins, then consider a professional career.
When her mother, Debbie, died suddenly during Lee’s first semester in Los Angeles, however, her perspective changed.
“It made me realize that golf is not everything,” Lee said.“It’s just part of me and something I love to do, but golf doesn’t really judge who I am.”
Life without her mother, who also had been her golf teacher and on-course coach, was difficult at first. The Bruins, a squad with a tight bond, rallied around Lee . She focused on being more open-minded and carefree.
In turn, Lee contributed six top 10s as a freshman, then came back stronger as a sophomore. She led the team in scoring both years. When UCLA added Alison Lee (no relation) last year, the eventual Golfweek player of the year, the Lees became a formidable one-two punch.
As Erynne Lee sees it, her role doesn’t change .
“People told me my four years in college would fly by fast,” she said.
Her more carefree attitude has helped her enjoy the ride.
Chen knows the feeling of thriving in a team setting. A shy Chen, who left Taiwan at age 12 to attend the IMG Academy, arrived at USC in fall 2011 eager to see how she would fare in college golf.
“If I play well I might as well turn pro,” Chen remembers reasoning. She tied for 29th at the first stage of LPGA Q-School that fall , consulted her parents and head coach Andrea Gaston, ultimately deciding to stay at USC to complete a degree in international relations.
Chen’s mother, Yuh-Guey Lin , a lung-cancer patient for the past year, watched her daughter win the NCAA Championship in May . USC’s support system helped Chen. “If I think about it (her mother’s ordeal), it is actually better that I was here when that happened,” she said.
When her final season in Tempe ends this semester, Jimenez knows it’s time to start a new chapter. For a player who expresses such passion for teammates and coaches, it will be bittersweet.
Jimenez blossomed last season, posting seven top 5s, including the West Regional title . Some said those results indicated the time was right to turn professional, but the Spaniard felt no rush.
“I did already three years of studying and playing here,” she said, “so I just want to do my last one.”
Jimenez wants to return to head coach Melissa Luellen and assistant coach Missy Farr-Kaye the support they have shown her. She struggled as a freshman, but her coaches never pressed. “I’m a good player now because of that,” she said
Kim regards her senior season at Washington with a strange feeling of “blankness” – excited to start but scared to finish.Kim committed four years to the Huskies to gain experience, and credits head coach Mary Lou Mulflur with the personal and game growth she has experienced.
“I don’t regret spending time here,” said Kim, from South Korea by way of British Columbia . “Not even a single bit.”
Kim, with three college victories, has been a big part of Washington’s recent resurgence.The Huskies held the No. 1 ranking for most of the fall 2012, and ended last season ranked No. 6.Kim has led the team in scoring since she arrived .
“Our team goal is my goal,” she said of the upcoming season.That means not just qualifying for the NCAA Championship, but winning it.– Julie William
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Sept. 5, 2014 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.