A Clean Sweep for Huskies in Cle Elum
By Beau Eastes
It’s been a whirlwind eight days for recently graduated University of Washington golfer Cheng-Tsung Pan.
Exactly a week after taking second in the individual competition of the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championships in Bradenton, Fla., Pan earned medalist honors in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Tumble Creek Club, posting a 36-hole total of 2-under 138.
Pan led a Husky sweep Monday as Richard Lee and Troy Kelly, both UW alums, tied for second with matching 1-under 139s. All three golfers will likely be greeted warmly by spectators at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., which lies just 45 miles southwest of UW’s Seattle campus.
“There’s a lot of good mojo right now,” said Pan, who was aided by a hole-in-one on Tumble Creek's 227-yard, par-3 seventh hole during the first round.
Pan, a native of Chinese Taipei, birdied three of his last four holes Monday to qualify for his third U.S. Open (2011, 2013) and fourth major championship. The Huskies routinely play at Tumble Creek, one of three Sunlandia Resort courses located about a 90-minute drive east of Seattle.
“I love this course,” said Pan, who intends to make the U.S. Open his debut as a professional. “We’ve played here a million times. … It’s a good fit for me.”
Lee, 28, shot 69-70 for his 139 to earn a spot in his first U.S. Open. An established veteran on the PGA Tour, Lee was playing his first competitive golf in nine months following a thumb injury.
“This was very satisfying,” said Lee, who graduated from Washington in 2010 and has five top-10 finishes on the Tour. “That’s the longest layoff I’ve ever had. I got off to a slow start – I was 2 over after three holes – but I knew I was going to be a little rusty here and there and I told myself there’s 33 holes left to play.”
Lee carded five birdies against just one bogey the rest of the day in hot and windy conditions as temperatures soared into the 90s.
“I think my experience paid off, for sure,” he said. “I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum where you get off to a great start and finish bad and when you have a terrible start and finish strong.
“I was really pleased how I hung in there, found my rhythm and really grinded it out,” added Lee, who was one of the few players at Monday’s qualifier who did not use a caddie. “Today I made a lot of putts inside 10 feet and that was huge.”
Heading into the qualifier, Lee said he wasn’t focused on a specific score as much as just being competitive after his layoff.
“Obviously you come here and you want to try to qualify,” said Lee. “But at the same time I just wanted to put together two decent rounds and I knew I’d be happy. I’m satisfied I was able to come and compete.”
Kelly’s day was a bit more up and down than his fellow Huskies, but the 36-year-old pro came up with a crucial birdie on the par-3 17th hole during the second round to go back to 1 under. Kelly, who has played in 58 PGA Tour events over the last nine years, posted seven bogeys and one double bogey Monday, but balanced his score out with 10 birdies.
“It helps to have some course knowledge here,” said Kelly, who was born in Tacoma and said he can see Chambers Bay from his house in Lakewood, Wash. “You’re back in some of those pockets of trees and you have to remember what the wind was doing from the previous hole. … It’s tough because you’re grinding and thinking on every shot, but everybody’s doing it.”
Lee and Kelly appeared likely to be headed for a playoff for the third and final U.S. Open berth as PGA Tour Canada pro Mackenzie Hughes was tied at 2 under with Pan heading into his final hole of the day. However, Hughes hit his tee shot out of bounds en route to a double bogey on the par-5 hole, ending his day with an even-par 140 total and the first alternate spot.
“You get tired,” Kelly said about Hughes’ late miscue. “I hit a loose shot on the 14th hole (which led to a double bogey). You don’t get through some shots; it’s definitely tough.”
Former University of Minnesota standout Donald Constable, who made the U.S. Open last year through local and sectional qualifying, earned the second alternate spot at 1-over-par 141 after rounds of 66-75. Constable’s opening 66, in which he logged five birdies, was the lowest round of the day.
Having survived the 36-hole gauntlet of sectional qualifying, Pan, Lee and Kelly now focus on their preparations for the 115th U.S. Open, which runs from June 18-21.
“I love Seattle,” said Pan. “It’s very special to me. As a representative of UW, and an alumnus now, I want to make Seattle proud.”
“What a day,” Lee added, “getting three Huskies through!”
Indeed, chants of “Go Huskies” will no doubt greet these players as they make their way around the course at Chambers Bay, adding local flavor to the first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest.