Cheng-Tsung Pan: School's cool for top college golfer
16 Mar 2015
Cheng Tsung Pan (Union Tribune Photo by K.C. Alfred)
Cheng Tsung Pan (Union Tribune Photo by K.C. Alfred)

CHULA VISTA (March 9, 2015) — The top-ranked player in men’s college golf is competed at San Diego Country Club last week, and some might consider that a remarkable occurrence.

Cheng-Tsung Pan fits the profile of the young college golfer who bolts from school early to try to make quick cash in the pros.

The Taiwan native, who came alone to the United States when he was 15 to attend a golf academy, is now, at 23, an older senior at Washington. His credentials include: reaching the 2007 U.S. Amateur quarterfinals at 15, the youngest to do so since Bobby Jones in 1920; six collegiate wins, which ties a Huskies record; a 45th-place finish in the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion; and winning the gold medal in September’s Asian Games.

College golfers with far less impressive resumes have made the pro jump.

Pan firmly insists he’s never seriously considered it.

“Getting a college degree is extremely important to me,” Pan, a communications major, said on Sunday after a practice round to prepare for the 54-hole Lamkin San Diego Classic at SDCC. “Honestly, I didn’t go to school when I was a kid (in Taiwan). I was a smart kid, but I didn’t go to school much.

“Getting this thing done, getting this college degree, it’s a big milestone for me personally. You can play golf for 20 to 30 years; why are you so rushed? Why do you turn pro so early? I don’t want to go back to college when I’m 40. That’s a no-no for me.”

Washington coach Matt Thurmond smiled at the idea that many assumed Pan would be long gone by now from his Seattle campus.

“That’s kind of how he is,” Thurmond said. “He says he’s going to do something and the decision is made.”

Thurmond admitted he was extremely stressed about coaching a player of Pan’s caliber, and now, of course, he wouldn’t trade the last four years as he watched his development.

“He’s a man now,” Thurmond said. “He’s so much more mature, resilient and tough. You could plop this guy down in any group in the world and he’s going to come out on top.”

Imagine sending your 15-year-old child to another country on his own. He doesn’t speak the language. He has no friends there. All he knows is that he wants to go to college and eventually be a professional golfer.

That was the Pan’s life path. He learned golf at 5, encouraged by his mother, who was a caddie at a golf course. The youngest of six children, Pan, an older brother and their father first hit balls at an abandoned ranch.

Pan began traveling to tournaments at 12 and the family decided he should attend the IMG Academy in Florida. Struggling to learn the language, Pan’s first few months were extremely difficult and lonely. For tournaments, he traveled on his own, sometimes taking cabs to the course. Acquaintances checked into hotels for him because he was under-aged.

“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal,” he says now with a grin.

Pan tied for Medalist and his Washington team won the team title [Editor]

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