Last November, when 14-year-old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to become the youngest player ever to qualify for the Masters, another young golfer missed out by the narrowest of margins. In second place, a single shot behind, was Taiwan’s Pan Cheng-tsung, who fired a stunning 65 to close the tournament, six shots better than Guan’s final round.
Fast forward six months, and Pan again finished second in the field, this time at the US Open Sectional qualifier at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, near Seattle, Washington. The big difference, though, is that while only the first place finisher at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship qualified for the Masters, the top two at the Sectional in Cle Elum got into the US Open, which kicks off at Merion Golf Club, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
Pan won’t win it, of course, and will struggle to make the cut (though the same was said about Guan at the Masters, too), but he’s well on his way to becoming Taiwan’s best golfer. He also won’t be overawed, having also qualified for the 2011 US Open.
The youngest of six children, he was introduced to golf by his mother, who worked as a caddie at a local club in Taiwan, but it was his father who taught him the game by studying golf books. In 2007, Pan left his family behind and moved to the US to further his golf career. Unable to speak English and with little formal golf training, he enrolled in high school at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Four years later, he joined the University of Washington, and won All-American honors in his freshman year, before hitting the top of the NCAA men’s golf rankings earlier this year as a sophomore.
Along the way, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 US Amateur Championship, becoming, at 15, the youngest to do so since 14-year-old Bobby Jones in 1916. He’s played in the Volvo China Open, something of a rite of passage for young Asian golfers, and is now the fifth ranked amateur golfer in the world.
As well as overcoming language and cultural issues – he admitted last year he still misses his mother’s cooking – he bore the death of his father in silence, hiding it from his coaches for almost a year. His father, he says, is the reason he plans to turn pro after graduating in 2015.
He stands just 5’6″, but, at seven years Guan’s senior, already sounds like a veteran. “I look at him and I see myself when I was that age,” he says. “No fear, good skills and just calm.”
Interestingly, Pan’s UW teammate Chris Williams, also qualified for the 2011 US Open and will play again this year. Williams won the 2013 Ben Hogan Award as the top player in college and amateur golf and will turn pro next week after the US Open.