Washington's Pan rebuilt great swing and made it greater

By Ryan LavnerMay 29, 2015, 9:11 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – Washington coach Matt Thurmond needed to watch only a few swings to notice the difference.

His best player, Cheng-Tsung Pan, had left for winter break on the cusp of a breakthrough. He returned to school looking like a world-beater.

“Oh my goodness, it looks awesome,” Thurmond told him after the team’s first practice round this spring. “You might win every tournament you play.”

Pan smiled.

“I know,” he said.

The All-American senior didn’t win every tournament he played, of course, but he did rip off three victories in his first four spring starts and four wins overall as he continued to compile one of the most impressive four-year résumés in recent memory.

Pan’s eight career wins are the most in school history. His scoring average likely will go down as the lowest, too. He qualified for U.S. Opens and ascended to the No. 1 spot in the world and captured two gold medals at the Asian Games and became the first four-time Hogan Award semifinalist. Entering this week’s NCAA Championship, Pan is the No. 4-ranked player in the country, a spot he’s occupied nearly his entire college career.

Full coverage: NCAA Division I National Championships

Yet he still faced some internal questions as to whether he would ever take the next step, to become not just a consistent player but a consistently great one. And it all came together over that winter break, when a long, extensive swing change finally clicked.

“He’s really, really good right now,” Thurmond said.

Pan rebuilt his swing after contending at the 2013 U.S. Open, of all places. He moved within a few shots of the lead during the third round at Merion before backing up over the weekend.

After that, though, Pan “went into hiding for a while.”

His junior season wasn’t great, by his lofty standards – four top 10s, including a victory in the fall – as his game remained in transition.

After all, this was a massive overhaul, everything from his lower-body action to his turn to his swing path to his weight transfer to his release. A totally different move.

And Thurmond had argued with him, even advised against it: Why tear down something that made you so successful?

“I’d never say something like that to a guy unless I really felt it,” Thurmond said, “and I said, ‘Pan, I just want to make sure you really believe in this, because it’s not looking good.’

“But he knows himself. He said, ‘Look, I know I can be good with this swing, but I don’t think I can be the best with it.'" 

Mostly, Pan was worried about how his swing would hold up under pressure. Sure, he could find a way to make it work, but always patching it together was exhausting.

So he worked tirelessly at his action, mostly by himself but also with the assistance of his coach back in Taiwan, and the payoffs have been significant.

With a revamped swing and a seven-day-a-week fitness regimen, Pan is about 25 yards longer off the tee. This week at beefy Concession, the 5-foot-6 Pan is easily topping three bills. Once the shortest hitter on the team, he now blows it past his teammates. They’re baffled.

Pan’s physical strengths are his accuracy and short game, but Thurmond believes that it’s his ability to concentrate and focus on what matters that separates him from his peers. 

“That’s a very sophisticated skill,” Thurmond said, “and most people will learn it when they’re 35 and they look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had focused on that.’ But he already knows that stuff. He has a command of his mind and a great sense of who he is.”

That maturity was on display this spring, when Pan set a school record with his seventh career title at the San Diego Classic, then summoned one of the best performances of his college career at NCAA regionals. With the Huskies on the verge of missing the five-team cut – on one of their home courses, no less – he birdied five of his last seven holes to not only claim the individual title, but also send his team to the NCAA Championship.

“Nobody’s been better than Pan,” Thurmond said.

Players with his credentials usually bolt early for the pros, but Pan stuck around all four years. His reason for staying was simple: He came to the U.S., first and foremost, to get an education. The youngest of six children, he wanted to become the first person in his family to earn a degree, and that’s exactly what he will do in a few weeks’ time.

“I completed something I’ve always wanted,” he said.

Pan will join the play-for-pay ranks after this week’s NCAAs, and he already has status on PGA Tour Canada after a high finish at Q-School. Sponsor exemptions on the PGA and Web.com circuits are more difficult to procure for international players, but Pan’s stay in the minors will be short if he plays well in his limited appearances.

“I think there’s no question he’s going to be a good pro,” Thurmond said. “He’s hungry, he’s humble, and he knows himself. He’s not going to get distracted by fame or money. He’s very mature, both in his game and with his social and personal life.

“If he was already playing Tour events right now, he’d be doing well.”

Pan’s pursuit of an elusive national title began Friday at Concession, where he opened with an even-par 70 that left him only a few shots back after the first round of stroke play. 

He hasn’t fared particularly well at past NCAAs, either because the weight of expectations (Riviera, 2012) or the course didn’t suit his game (Crabapple, 2013) or the swing that was in transition (Prairie Dunes, 2014).

Finally, he is not bothered by any of those issues.

“I feel like I’m rolling,” he said.

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.