Chinese Taipei’s Cheng-Tsung Pan is thrilled to be a part of the men’s golf competition at the Rio Olympics, and given his incredible story, you cannot blame him.
Pan learned the game of golf in the humblest of fashions. At five years old he began to hit a ball around an abandoned driving range in his hometown of Miaoli County in Chinese Taipei.
Pan’s family only knew of the sport because his mother worked at National Garden Golf Club as a caddie. The club was designed to be a hotel with a golf course and a range. However, the developers never got round to building the range.
Pan’s family didn’t have much money so they borrowed clubs from friends to allow him to follow his passion.
“We pretty much started from scratch,” said Pan of the first stages of his life as a golfer.
“It was a 200-yard-deep range, and they rarely cut down the grass, so it was pretty thick rough. But we played it so often, that the rough eventually became like a fairway.
“Me, my dad and my brother, we all started right there and played golf. We put down a flag, bought it from a store similar to Walmart, and tried to make our own course.”
Pan began playing local junior tournaments at seven years of age.
Pan’s father made plenty of sacrifices so that he could pursue a career in golf. To save money at junior tournaments, the pair of them would sleep in a truck, even in the unbearable Asian summer heat.
Those sacrifices started to pay-off in 2006 at the Asian Games- an Olympic-style competition for the continent.
Pan, then just 14 years old, was the youngest player on Chinese Taipei’s golf team. He won the silver medal.
The IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, took notice, and offered Pan a scholarship. It was his big break.
Just 15 years old and without much knowledge of neither the English language nor American culture, Pan bid farewell to his large family and ventured across the Pacific Ocean.
Pan’s game went from strength to strength at the IMG Academy and he was soon offered a scholarship to the University of Washington where he worked with esteemed college coach Matt Thurmond who has tipped the 24-year-old for great things.
“I really think he will be a superstar in this game,” Thurmond said of his former student.
Pan graduated from Washington, shortly after earning playing status on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, and there he thrived, winning twice in just seven starts and finishing second on the money list. That led to him claiming a trip directly to the final stage of the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament.
A strong run this summer on the Web.com Tour has not only clinched Pan’s Olympic spot but also made a PGA Tour card all but a certainty for next season. Pan has finished inside the top 20 in his past five starts, including a runner-up finish at the LECOM Health Challenge and a sixth-place finish at last week’s Ellie Mae Classic.
While some of the world’s top golfers have turned their noses up at the Olympic golf event, for Pan it is about as big as it gets.
“The International Golf Federation had a website updated every week with the list of Olympic players for golf, and I checked the website a thousand times,” he said.
“[On July 11], that was probably the first thing I did, go on and refresh things, and I saw my name up there when it was finalized. It was a big relief to see that happen, and to just feel like all the hard work has paid off.
“It’s a great feeling, a great achievement in my career.
“It’s going to be a super exciting event for me. I’m really looking forward to it.”
A photo posted by C. T. Pan (@ctpan63) on
Pan will be joined by the experienced Lin Wen-tang in Rio. The duo will have the thrill of going head to head with the likes of Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett and Bubba Watson. However, above all, they will have the honour of representing Chinese Taipei.
This kind of enthusiasm is what golf at The Games should be about. Never mind what Rory and company say.