He's no flash in the pan

A joyous Pan Cheng-tsung with the RBC Heritage trophy after winning the event by a shot on Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A joyous Pan Cheng-tsung with the RBC Heritage trophy after winning the event by a shot on Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Late push at RBC Heritage makes him first Taiwanese golfer to win Tour title in 32 years

WASHINGTON • A year ago, Pan Cheng-tsung had a great chance to win his first PGA Tour title at the Wyndham Championship.

He stood on the 18th tee that Sunday, tied with Brandt Snedeker, only to watch forlornly as his drive sailed right, hit the cart path and bounced out of bounds.

He ended up making double-bogey while Snedeker rolled in a birdie putt to win, reported pgatour.com.

The 27-year-old Chinese Taipei golfer got a second shot on Sunday at the RBC Heritage and, this time, he did not let slip the chance.

He held steady down the stretch at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, South Carolina, grabbing the lead with a birdie at the 16th hole before making pars on the final two holes.

The four-under 67 gave him a 12-under 272 total, one ahead of Matt Kuchar, the FedExCup leader who finished two groups ahead and applied pressure when he birdied the last hole for a 67.

Pan is the first Taiwanese in 32 years to win a PGA Tour title after Chen Tze-chung triumphed at the 1987 Genesis Open. He won two PGA Tour Canada titles in 2015 and was joint-second twice in the United States, including at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017.

CLOSING WELL

The last three holes, I would say I played really well because I told myself I need to focus on the details, the little things, and just stay in present. That's something I didn't do at Wyndham.

PAN CHENG-TSUNG, world No. 55 golfer, on how he learnt from his mistake a year ago.

As he sat in the media centre wearing the RBC Heritage's trademark tartan jacket, he acknowledged that the near-miss at Sedgefield played a big role in the victory.

He said: "The last three holes, I would say I played really well because I told myself I need to focus on the details, the little things, and just stay in present. That's something I didn't do at Wyndham."

Pan, the youngest of six children, started playing golf at an abandoned driving range in Taiwan, where he and his brother and his late father, an elementary school teacher, would create holes with makeshift pin flags.

By the time Pan was seven, he was competing in local junior tournaments and his father could see he had talent, and he encouraged him every step of the way.

A silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games attracted attention in the United States and soon he was headed to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

It did not matter that he was 15 and spoke virtually no English; he was driven and he knew his father was right.

"He told us that he believed this sport has really good potential in the future," he said. "Obviously, I didn't know anything back then. But it was the right time, 1996, I believe, when Tiger was coming up like crazy. He's still crazy.

"It's something when I was younger I always dreamed of. Watched Tiger playing growing up."

Pan reaped the rewards as he jumped to world No. 55 from 113rd and earned Tour status up till 2020-21 as well as invitations to his first Masters next year and his first PGA Championship at Bethpage Black next month.

He moved up to No. 26 in the FedExCup standings and is much closer to realising his goal of playing in the season-ending Tour Championship. "Hopefully, this year, I'll do something special, just like this win, to secure it," he said.

The first person he must thank, twice over, would be his wife and his part-time caddie Lin Ying-chun.

While watching Woods' comeback win at the Masters the previous week, she told him: "Hey, I'm not patient at all, so you better get me there as soon as possible." He quipped: "She only wants to caddie for the Par-3 event."

And it was also his wife who made him play at Harbour Town. He wanted to skip the week to attend a junior event in Houston he had helped organise but she told him she would settle it on her own.

He said: "And she's right, always.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2019, with the headline 'He's no flash in the pan'. Print Edition | Subscribe