At age 15, he became the youngest quarterfinalist in the U.S. Amateur since Bobby Jones in 1916 and has been one of the top amateur golfers in the world for nearly a decade. He has won seven titles with the Huskies and will be seeking his second NCAA regional title.
Cheng-Tsung Pan has the record for the most career victories by a University of Washington men’s golfer, but the accomplishment that means the most to him has nothing to do with golf.
He dreamed of being the first one in his extended family to get a college degree, but he said it seemed impossible upon moving from Taiwan to attend a Florida golf academy as a 15-year-old.
“Eight years ago, when I came (to the United States), I told myself I wanted to go to college, I wanted to get my degree,” said Pan, who will lead the Huskies into this week’s NCAA regional at Gold Mountain golf complex in Bremerton. “But at that time, it seemed like an impossible task to me because I didn’t speak any English.”
Best ever at UW?
The Washington men’s golf team has had many great players, including two winners of the Hogan Award, college golf’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Pan is a finalist for the award this year. Here is a quick look at the players in the conversation for best ever for UW:
Brock Mackenzie (2001-04): UW’s career leader in top-10 finishes with 32; won four times, tied for third-most. He plays on the Web.com Tour.
Cheng-Tsung Pan (2012-15): Holds UW record with seven career victories, and was No. 1 in the World Amateur Rankings for eight weeks. He has 24 top-10 finishes at UW, tied for third-most.
Nick Taylor (2007-10): Two-time first-team All-American and Hogan Award winner in 2010. Won four times and had 24 top-10 finishes, tied for third-most. Was world’s top-ranked amateur for 21 weeks. In November he became first Husky in more than 50 years to win a PGA Tour event.
Chris Williams (2010-13): Two-time first-team All-American and Hogan Award winner in 2013. Won six times and had 28 top-10 finishes, second-most in school history in both categories. Was world’s top-ranked amateur for 46 weeks.
Pan, finishing up his senior season, now speaks English fluently and already has graduated with a degree in communications.
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“It feels to me like I accomplished a big, big task,” he said. “My family’s very proud of me, and I’m feeling good about myself. That’s probably the biggest accomplishment in my life.”
That is saying a lot, considering what he has done on the golf course. At age 15, he became the youngest quarterfinalist in the U.S. Amateur since Bobby Jones in 1916 and has been one of the top amateur golfers in the world for nearly a decade. He has won seven titles with the Huskies and will be seeking his second NCAA regional title.
Said UW golf coach Matt Thurmond: “And he did very well in school, too. He had a good GPA and did well in all of his classes, learned a lot and is a very educated person.”
Pan was perhaps UW’s biggest recruit in history, ranked No. 8 in the world amateur rankings the summer before he started college. Thurmond said Pan has exceeded the coach’s high expectations. Thurmond used just one word to describe coaching Pan.
“Easy,” Thurmond said. “When I recruited him, the guy who worked with him at the academy said he’s never been late to one meeting or done anything wrong, ever. And that’s how Pan is. He’s always got his stuff together. He always knows what he’s going to do, why he’s going to do it, and he always does what he says he is going to do. He’s a coach’s dream.”
Pan carries himself much bigger than his 5-foot-6 and 150-pound stature would indicate. He was named team captain for this season, and although he does not say a lot, he has a big influence on his teammates.
“Pan doesn’t say much, so when he does say something, you know you better pay attention,” Thurmond said. “So everyone hears what he says, and they take it to heart.”
Sophomore Corey Pereira, a budding star, agrees.
NCAA Bremerton Regional
Where: Olympic Course at Gold Mountain golf complex.
When: Thursday-Saturday. Admission is free.
What: 14 teams will compete for five spots into the NCAA championships in two weeks in Bradenton, Fla. South Carolina is the top seed, UW is No. 2, and USC is No. 3. The previous time the regional was held at Gold Mountain, in 2010, UW was an easy winner.
“I’m learning the world from watching him,” he said. “He’s a tiny guy, and he doesn’t look intimidating, but once you get him out on the golf course, there’s something special about him. The way he walks, the way he carries himself. He has this confidence that’s not cocky. It’s real confidence. It’s not like anyone else I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty special, and I learn a lot from him.”
Pan understands his impact.
“As a leader on the team, or as the best player on the team, everyone looks up to you, so you want to be a model so they can learn from you — hopefully good things,” said Pan, who said coming to UW was one of the better decisions of his life. “That’s why I’m trying to do the right things, help them, make sure they’re improving. That’s something I want to contribute back to this school, to the team.”
Pan likely will be one of the favorites in the NCAA championship tournament beginning May 29 in Bradenton, Fla. But he is most interested in team goals.
“Hopefully we can win a national title, something that would be really special for the whole team, and even for the whole school,” he said. “I want to make a memory.”
Pan said he will turn pro right after the NCAA championships. He played last week in a PGA Tour Canada Qualifying school event and finished tied for fifth, earning exempt status onto that Tour’s first six events. If he does well enough on that Tour, he can earn his way onto the Web.com Tour next year, one step below the PGA Tour.
There seems to be little doubt he eventually will get to the biggest tour. As a sophomore at UW, he was tied for third at the U.S. Open after two days of competition. Pan’s goal is to one day become the No. 1 player in the world.
“I think he’s going to have a great, long career,” Thurmond said. “I can’t see how a guy like that won’t be successful.”