Cheng-Tsung Pan, Richard Lee and Troy Kelly punch tickets for Chambers Bay
CLE ELUM — Look out, Chambers Bay.
Here come the Huskies.
Washington golfers swept the three berths into the U.S. Open next week at Chambers Bay in a dramatic, hard-to-believe finish Monday at the Tumble Creek Club sectional qualifier.
Cheng-Tsung Pan earned his spot with a heroic finish. Richard Lee and Troy Kelly were getting ready to play each other in a playoff for the final berth when the news started spreading around the scoring area that co-leader Mackenzie Hughes of Canada had made a double bogey on the final hole, dropping into fourth. That put Kelly and Lee into the Open with scores of 1 under, and made Hughes the first alternate.
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“What an incredible day for our program,” UW coach Matt Thurmond said.
Thurmond came out to watch but left before Pan started his final nine holes, because “I get too nervous to watch.”
He missed quite a show. Pan, who ended his UW career last week by finishing second in the NCAA championships, made birdies on three of his final four holes to go from outside the top three to winning the 36-hole sectional at 2 under. At the 16th hole, he was behind the green and had what he said was a tough chip.
“It was funny, before that chip I said to myself, ‘I need to make this chip to have a chance to qualify,’ ” he said. “It went exactly as I visualized it, and I was like, ‘Wow. It’s magic.’ ”
Pan still needed a birdie on the 18th to get in, and he hit his approach shot to about 3 feet, calmly making the putt.
It was quite a display on an often breezy day with temperatures that peaked near 100 degrees. Players were challenged mentally and physically during 36 holes of golf, and the scores reflected that. A par was a good score Monday.
Though Pan was one of the favorites coming in, no one knew quite what to expect from Lee and Kelly, who both were coming off injuries.
Lee, who went to Newport High School in Bellevue, has played mostly on the PGA Tour the past couple of years but had not played since September in the Web.com Tour Championship. He underwent thumb surgery after that event and resumed playing only about a month and a half ago.
“I had no idea what to expect, because playing in a tournament is a lot different than playing with your friends,” said Lee, who will have conditional status on the PGA Tour next year on a medical exemption. “I was really satisfied with how I played, and to make it to the U.S. Open is special.”
Kelly, who was the NCAA championship runner-up in 1999, was playing this year on the PGA Tour on a medical exemption, but his left knee was bothering him so badly he has not played a Tour event since February. That came on top of having a hip replacement in 2010 and missing most of last season recovering from right-knee surgery.
His best year on Tour was 2012 when he won $786,832 and lost The Greenbrier Classic in a playoff.
But in the past couple weeks he played in a couple of mini-tour events to get his game in shape. It paid off. He led for a good chunk of the final 18 holes, then a late double bogey and two bogeys put him in a precarious spot. But he made a birdie on the 17th to get to 1 under, and that was good enough when Hughes faltered.
“I feel sorry for that guy, because I hit a loose shot out there, too,” he said.
Kelly lives in Steilacoom and can see Chambers Bay in University Place from his house, but he has played the course just once.
He has played in the U.S. Open, shooting 83-67 at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina in 2005. He just missed the cut after his second round was the second-best score of the week.
As for Pan, he just wants to “keep the mojo going.” This will be his third U.S. Open and fourth major championship, but this one will mean the most, he said.
“This will be my first major as a pro, and I always dreamed of playing in the majors as a pro,” he said. “I love Seattle, and I am proud to represent the University of Washington at Chambers Bay.”
Lee, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he wants to be introduced as being from Bellevue.
“This is my first time as a pro in front of the home crowd,” said Lee, who won the 2010 NCAA regional in Bremerton. “And to have three Huskies make it is really special.”