Pan Cheng-tsung (潘政琮), a 21-year-old amateur golfer from Taiwan, has played his way into contention at the US Open, snagging a share of third place halfway into his darkness-halted second round.
Pan finished off a two-over-par 72 opening round on Friday, a day after storms halted play at Merion for more than four hours, then went two-under-par for nine holes of his second round to stand on level-par for the tournament.
“I feel good. I played great this afternoon,” Pan said. “I didn’t hit my driver well, but I ground it out just trying to make par and make tons of par putts, which are really important for me. That makes all the difference.”
The University of Washington standout, who in 2007 became the youngest US Amateur quarter-finalist since icon Bobby Jones at age 15, qualified for the Open by taking the last of two spots on offer in a sectional near his college.
With birdies on Friday afternoon on the par-5 second and par-4 fifth, the 2006 Asian Games silver medalist proved he was no flash in the pan.
“I’m really happy with my performance,” Pan said. “I’m not saying I’m good enough, but I love this kind of feeling and the competition is great.”
Four-time major champion Phil Mickelson and fellow American Billy Horschel shared the clubhouse lead at one-under 139 after 36 holes with England’s Justin Rose and Luke Donald and American Steve Stricker one stroke back on par-140.
Pan and England’s Ian Poulter were on the course, but even with the level-par group, heady territory for a player who moved from Taiwan to the US in 2007 for his career and said he does not feel extra pressure playing among the greats.
“I’m very excited to see my name on the leaderboard,” Pan said. “The reason I don’t feel pressure is because the holes are hard and I just try every shot hard. It’s still early in the tournament. I’ve got 45 holes to go. Just seeing my name on the scoreboard, that’s all I’m trying to do.”
It is a success Pan never imagined when he qualified for the Open a second time after failing in 2011.
“A lot of great players here,” he said. “I was just trying to do my job, trying to be a good player. This course is good for me because it’s not really long. It’s narrow and accuracy is my strong point, which helps me a lot.”
Even so, US Opens produce the toughest conditions in golf with dense rough and fast greens, forcing a maturity and patience beyond the years of most collegians.
“I knew it was going to be tough with the wind picking up,” Pan said. “I just try to remind myself to try to hit a good shot each time, even if I made a bogey, to just forget it and then continue, because sometimes a bogey is not bad.”