SUBMITTED BY SCOTT HANSON:
I think I do a good job of not letting any biases get in the way of my writing, but I’ll admit this:
I really respect Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan, the No. 1 college golfer in the country.
It all started after one interminably long round of golf.
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He was playing in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place and was set to begin playing for the University of Washington that fall.
But even then, he was a player to watch. Three years earlier as a 15-year-old at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, he had reached the quarterfinals, becoming the youngest quarterfinalist since the legendary Bobby Jones did it as a 14-year-old in 1916.
That helped earn Pan a scholarship to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He had arrived from Taiwan not knowing any English. But he soon picked it up while his game continued to flourish. He was the 10th-ranked amateur in the world entering the 2010 Amateur and the biggest recruit in UW golf history.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I watched him for the first time, but he certainly didn’t look like a star. He was 5 feet 6 and even less than the 150 pounds that he is now.
But it did not take long for me to realize I was watching someone special, from his impeccable swing to his ever-calm demeanor that never changed, no matter how a shot ended up.
What made me a real fan was what happened after the round. His two playing partners, who clearly were not in the same league as him, were very slow. They took forever to read putts, finally would get ready to address the ball, and then they would step back and begin the routine again.
The payment for that slow play came at the end, when a USGA official said each player would be assessed a two-stroke penalty for slow play. After a meeting with the official, the penalty was reduced to one stroke.
The parents of the other players were furious and fairly loud about it. The one person who had a reason to be angry, Pan, handled it without a blink. I was bothered because he was being penalized for what the others had done, but he wouldn’t say one negative word and refused to complain or blame anyone else.
It occurred to me that he was more mature at 18 than I was at 46.
During Pan’s freshman year at UW, coach Matt Thurmond said he was the most disciplined and focused golfer he had coached. That caught the attention of Chris Williams, the team’s star. In an unassuming way, Pan inspired Williams, who went on to win a record six tournaments for UW, was the No. 1 amateur in the world for a year and won the 2013 Hogan Award, college golf’s equivalent of the Heisman.
From the time Pan began at UW, many assumed he would leave school early and turn pro. Pan indeed envisions a long pro career, but he told me as a freshman that he can play pro golf for decades and that this was the only chance to play in college and that getting a college degree was very important to him.
Pan never wavered about staying in school, not even after being tied for third when the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open was suspended. He ended up tied for 45th.
Last year, I asked Pan about all the speculation about him turning pro early.
“I always said I was going to stay in college, I don’t know why people don’t believe me,” he said, as unassuming as ever.
Pan is now a senior at Washington who leads by example. He is the favorite to win this year’s Hogan Award, and this past week he tied Williams by winning his sixth tournament title for UW.
That’s all very impressive.
But what impresses me more is the way he does it.
Scott Hanson is the golf and horse-racing writer for The Seattle Times. He never believed when he was attending UW in the early 1980s that the school would become a golf powerhouse. Follow him on Twitter at @scotthansongolf.
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