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.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.