Pan Cheng-tsung had a pretty good day on the course. He felt even better about it when he scanned the scores.
“When I look at the scoreboard with my last name up there, it’s pretty cool,” he said.
Pan, of Miaoli County in Taiwan, was one of several amateurs who had a respectable showing in Thursday’s opening round of the US Open. Pan shot a two-over 72 at Merion Golf Club and put himself in solid position to make the cut.
Kevin Phelan topped the four amateurs who completed early rounds with a one-over 71 that put him four shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.
Pan and Phelan did great at No. 13: Both parred the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.
“It’s always nice to be able to compare yourself to the best in the world,” Phelan said. “It’s the first time I’ve had a round anywhere close to them. It’s nice, but there’s a long way to go.”
Pan, 21, is a junior at the University of Washington. He missed the cut in his other US Open appearance in 2011, saying he was too excited and had too many distractions to play his best game.
He brought only two friends with him to Merion. And this time?
“I had it going,” he said.
Pan, who also answered questions in Mandarin, wants to graduate from Washington and become the first member of his family to earn a degree.
He played nine holes on Wednesday with his idol, Luke Donald, but never could bring himself to say how much he admired his game.
“Nah, too embarrassing,” he said.
Phelan, who failed to make the cut in the 2010 Open, plans to turn pro later this year and attend Q-school. With more rounds like on Thursday, Phelan just might reach his goal of making the Walker Cup team.
“It certainly can’t hurt,” said Phelan, 22, who lives in St Augustine, Florida.
He was nervous before his first tee, but calmed down after his first swings. He came away from a practice round with Masters champion Adam Scott with some useful advice for taming the soggy course.
Sure, it was only Thursday and the amateurs conceded there was too much golf ahead to start thinking about making the cut. However, perhaps history could be on their side.
Only 21, amateur Jim Simons took a two-shot lead into the final day of the 1971 US Open played at — yes, Merion. Trying to become the first amateur to win the event since 1933, Simon faded to fifth. Lee Trevino would go on to beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. No amateur has led again on the final day.
Bobby Jones won the US Amateur in 1930 at Merion, clinching his Grand Slam.
On Thursday, Michael Kim had three birdies and shot a three-over 73 to join Pan and Phelan as the top three amateurs. The 19-year-old Kim was more jittery playing practice rounds than approaching his first US Open tee shot.
“I didn’t really feel too nervous out there, other than maybe a couple moments,” he said. “I just tried to have fun. Tried not to expect too much.”
Three of eight amateurs made the cut last year at Olympic Club and the best score for the tournament was Jordan Spieth at seven-over 287.
“The gap between amateur and pro, I think it’s getting smaller,” Pan said. “As an amateur, we’re getting more chances, more opportunities to compete in professional events. We learn from those.”
Additional reporting by staff writer