U.S. Open a special Father's Day for amateur Pan

Cheng-Tsung Pan, a 21-year-old Washington student, started the Open strong, but fell off the pace Saturday.
Cheng-Tsung Pan, a 21-year-old Washington student, started the Open strong, but fell off the pace Saturday. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: June 16, 2013

There were moments in Cheng-Tsung Pan's U.S. Open round of 75 Saturday - such as the double-bogey on 14 or the blown par putt a hole later - when another golfer might have wilted, even snapped.

But his father raised him to be tougher than that.

When Pan was a golf-crazy 8-year-old on Taiwan, his dad would drop him off at the gate to their local course and have the youngster run the three miles to the clubhouse.

He wanted his son to learn about golf in any weather condition. So when a typhoon struck the Asian island nation, they played in it.

"His dad pushed him hard. He was tough on him," Matt Thurmond, Pan's golf coach at the University of Washington, said Saturday. "I know Pan didn't love all the things he did. But he knew he wanted him to be a successful golfer."

Jung-Ho Pan, an elementary schoolteacher, died of cancer in 2010 when his son was half-a-world away at a Florida golf academy. Fearful that he would be drafted into the military if he returned to Taiwan, relatives advised the young golfer to forego the funeral.

"I still feel bad," Pan said.

On Sunday, the Open's traditional Father's Day conclusion, Jung-Ho Pan would have been proud of the way his son, a 21-year-old amateur, handled Merion, the way he lowered his shoulder and withstood this event's typhoon of pressure.

And maybe when it was over, they would have hugged at the 18th green like Tiger and Earl Woods used to.

"Father's Day is right now in China," Pan said after finishing with a 9-over total of 219, 10 shots behind leader Phil Mickelson. "He taught me how to golf, how to swing, how to grip. Unfortunately he died three years ago, and he couldn't see me right now. But he's somewhere out there watching me."

Like any relationship that ends prematurely, father and son left much forever unsaid. Whatever he felt about his father, Pan, according to his best friend on Washington's golf team, rarely spoke of him.

"He never mentioned him to me," Jonathan Sanders said. "I didn't even know [his father] had died until I read it in the paper here last year."

However harsh Jung-Ho Pan's training methods were, it was clear this week at Merion that he molded his son well.

"We used to practice every day, even if a typhoon or hurricane comes," Pan said afterward. "So if it was 45 [m.p.h.] wind, we still go out and practice. That's what he believed makes us stronger. And I think he proved that here."

Just 5-foot-6 and 142 pounds, Pan, dressed in a white Washington hat and golf shirt, finessed and thought his way around the sly old course on a sun-splashed afternoon. Constantly outdriven, he made up for that shortcoming with accuracy, a deadly wedge, and improved putting.

Two rounds of 72 had left him in contention Saturday. In his second Open, he had found himself near the lead Friday when two front-nine birdies put him at even par. While the 75 was disappointing, he endured it professionally, just as Jung-Ho Pan would have wanted.

"I can't tell you how mature Pan is," Thurmond said. "As a golfer and a person, he's way beyond his years."

While much of America might have learned his name for the first time this weekend, Pan is an unusually accomplished player.

At 15, while at David Leadbetter's Florida golf academy, he qualified for the 2007 U.S. Amateur, becoming the youngest person to do so since 14-year-old Bobby Jones gained entry to the 1916 event at Merion.

A first-team collegiate all-American at Washington this golf season, he qualified for the 2010 U.S. Open at 18 but missed the cut at Pebble Beach. Earlier this year, he was runner-up to 14-year-old Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang in the Asian Amateur.

"Once you can communicate with him, you realize he's a smart kid with great values who's really serious about getting an education," Thurmond said.

Because it took Pan a while to feel comfortable with his English, a lot of his college teammates felt he was overly shy, perhaps even aloof.

But Sanderson became his partner in a campus "cornhole" league - a beanbag-tossing game. The two won a championship and the American discovered a caring and sensitive friend.

"He's a great kid," said Sanderson from his L.A. home. "He would never do anything to make you feel bad or uncomfortable. If he cracks a joke to you, he apologizes right away to make sure you understand it was only a joke."

Thurmond said Taiwan allows college students an exemption from the military, and since Pan has been at Washington, he's returned several times to visit his mother, a former caddie.

"I know he feels bad about not being able to go back for his dad's funeral," Thurmond said. "But what can you do?

"I'm sure his father would be pleased with what his son has become."

Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at ffitzpatrick@phillynewscom. Follow on Twitter @philafitz.

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