The disastrous hole threatened to derail Cheng-Tsung Pan’s hope of making the cut at this U.S. Open, but his caddie saw no occasion for consolation or token encouragement.
Matt Thurmond knows that Pan doesn’t need it.
On Friday at Chambers Bay’s par-4 10th hole, Pan’s tee shot wandered left and found the nastiness of the tall fescue rough. His second shot found the bunker. His third shot found another bunker. His fourth shot found a greenside bunker.
“A lot of bad shots,” Pan said.
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By the time his ball settled in the hole, he had recorded a triple bogey 7, and his overall score inflated to plus-4 for the tournament. At that point, he knew he would need to play the final eight holes under par to feel safe about surviving the cut and playing during the weekend.
Thurmond, the golf coach at the University of Washington who recruited Pan as a touted teenager and coached him during a record-setting four-year collegiate career, is carrying Pan’s clubs this week. And as they walked to the 11th tee, he told his former superstar … nothing.
Or at least not much.
“I’ve learned you don’t say much after a triple bogey,” said Thurmond, who in 14 seasons as UW’s coach has mentored a steady stream of All-Americans, Pan among them. “You just kind of keep your mouth shut for a while.”
So he watched in silence as Pan piped a 316-yard drive down the 11th fairway, after which Thurmond knew the 23-year-old, playing in his first event as a professional, had sufficiently settled.
Pan missed a makeable birdie putt on 12, then made par on 13 before knocking a 150-yard shot on the par-4 14th within three feet of the hole. He converted that birdie putt, improved to plus-3 for the tournament, then saved par on each of the final four holes to survive the cut for the second time in his three Open appearances.
“I knew I needed to probably make two birdies or at least shoot anything under par to make the cut,” Pan said, “which I did, so I’m very, very satisfied.”
This finish wasn’t quite as thrilling as his performance at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier June 8 in Cle Elum at Tumble Creek, where Pan took medalist honors after carding birdies on three of his final four holes.
But it provided more evidence of Pan’s steady hand under pressure.
“He’s in a league of his own as far as his mental maturity and his emotional maturity that way, certainly compared to college kids,” Thurmond said. “… And to be able to kind of bring yourself back to the present, even when you intellectually know you’re supposed to, it’s extremely hard to do. But he’s so experienced, and he’s wise, and he understands that and he’s able to do that.”
Pan had already taken a challenging path here. He had been exempted into the sectional qualifier — meaning he could have skipped the local qualifier, at which he earned medalist honors by shooting a 67 at The Home Course in DuPont — but lost that exempt status when he chose to declare himself a professional following the completion of his collegiate career.
So Friday’s clutch finish to stay ahead of the cut line was the third in a recent series of play-well-or-go-home tests.
“I knew it would be a fun couple of days,” Thurmond said, “but I knew it would be a really fun four days if he could make the cut.”
The two seem to have forged a healthy partnership. Pan said Thurmond has never approached their relationship from a coach-player standpoint — “he’s always a nice guy, very cool … not so intimidating,” the golfer said. And Thurmond agrees that they’re more like “close friends.”
Thurmond calls Pan “probably the easiest recruit I’ve ever gotten” — and one of the most coveted — because he secured his commitment after only a few phone calls and emails, back when Pan, a native of Taiwan, was prepping at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“I didn’t know how great of a guy he was at the time,” Thurmond said. “I wanted him no matter what. But I’m glad that he felt good about me, and it’s turned into a great relationship.”
Standing next to Thurmond as he answered questions after his round, it was noted to Pan, somewhat jokingly, that it required maturity on his part to allow his caddie to speak to the media.
Pan laughed, and Thurmond cracked: “He’d rather me do all the talking, actually.”
Or, triple bogey in their wake, none of it. Seemed to work OK on Friday.