Collins & Pan Earn Spot in U.S. Open After Tough Test at Tumble Creek

Cheng-Tsung Pan being interviewed by the Golf Channel's Win McMurry

Wil Collins of Albuquerque, N.M. and Cheng-Tsung Pan of Sammamish, Wash. survived difficult conditions on a difficult golf course on a difficult day at the Sectional qualifier at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash. to earn the two available spots into the 2013 U.S. Open Championship. Collins earned medalist honors with rounds of 70-68 for a 2-under par 36-hole total of 138, while Pan finished a shot back at 1-under par.

Collins, 34, turned professional in 2002 and currently has exempt status on PGA TOUR Canada. He fired an even-par 70 in the morning round, and turned it on during the afternoon round with five birdies against three bogeys. “This course (Tumble Creek) couldn’t have been better prep for the U.S. Open,” he said. “You can hit two great shots on a hole and still end up with a bogey, and walk away shaking your head. I wasn’t letting myself thinking of anything out there. It was a grind.” Collins bogeyed the uphill 485-yard par-4 18th hole, his 36th hole of the day. “But that’s probably the hole I’m most proud of,” he said. “I pulled it out, hitting probably the two best putts of my life after missing the green.”

Collins arrived at Tumble Creek three days prior to today’s qualifier. “That was the best thing I did in preparing for this,” he said. “I worked with my coach, and we found something.” His coach for the past 22 years is Dave Walters, who’s been a PGA professional for 46 years. “I was working as a club pro at Arrowhead Country Club (in Rapid City, N.D.), and in walks this 12-year old towhead of a kid,” said Walters. “He introduces himself to me and tells me he wants to take lessons from me. He then tells me he’s been sneaking onto the course at night to hit shots. Arrowhead is a private club, and Wil’s parents weren’t members. I thought this kid had a lot of gumption, so I gave him a chance. We’ve been like family ever since.” When Collins went to the University of New Mexico, Walters was then the general manager of Santa Fe Country Club, and their partnership continued. Walters walked all 36 holes today with Collins.

Collins previously qualified for the 2005 U.S. Open. “That was my first tour event,” he said. “I was a little wide-eyed, to say the least.” But the All-American from the University of New Mexico, where he was the recipient of the 2001 Ben Hogan Award which recognizes the top college golfer in the country, has the experience now. He’s had nine victories during his pro career, most recently the Idaho Open and the Adams Pro Golf Tour SW Kansas Pro-Am in 2010. He also had exempt status on the PGA TOUR in 2009. He’s committed to playing in next week’s Times Colonist Island Savings Open in Victoria, B.C. on PGA TOUR Canada. How does he handle the travel? “My wife (Shelly). She’s a golfer as well, so she understands completely what it’s all about.” And now she gets to go to the U.S. Open with her husband.

Pan, the phenom from Taiwan who just finished his sophomore year at the University of Washington, will be making his second trip to the U.S. Open, having also qualified in 2011. Currently the No. 6-ranked amateur in the world (according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings), Pan has played in five of the last six U.S. Amateur championships, advancing to the quarterfinals last year. Pan had been scheduled to play in the British Amateur, but will now compete in the U.S. Open. He’ll then return to Chinese Taipei, where he’ll spend six weeks working on his swing. He’ll return to the U.S. later this summer, where he’s already exempt to play in the U.S. Amateur championship, to be held at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Pan honed his skills at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. before being recruited to play in Seattle for the University of Washington. Pan’s teammate, Chris Williams, is currently the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, and is already exempt into the U.S. Open.

Michael Gligic of Burlington, ON, playing in the final group of the day, had tied Pan at 1-under after a birdie on the par-5 14th. He then bogeyed the par-3 17th, and standing on the 18th tee, his caddie asked Jared Jeffries, the general manager at Tumble Creek who was following the group, how Gligic stood. “But he (Gligic) already knew,” said Jeffries. Gligic then hit two terrific shots on the hugely difficult hole, sitting on the back edge of the green in two, just 22 feet from the hole. His birdie try, which would have put him into a playoff with Pan for the second spot into the championship, slid by the hole, and he settled for the first alternate spot. The second alternate spot goes to Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C. Taylor is the former University of Washington standout who was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world during his senior year.

Tumble Creek, designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2005, played as a par 70 (36-34) for this qualifier. The 15th hole, normally played as a 515-yard par-5 for members, was shortened to 485 yards and played as a par-4. “There’s a short par-5 on the front nine (No. 8, playing at 505 yards), and we didn’t want to have a par-4 longer than a par-5, so we shortened 15,” said Scotty Crouthamel, WSGA Sr. Director of Rules and Competition, who was in charge of course setup at Tumble Creek.

Overall, this year’s championship received a record number of entries. The total of 9,860 entrants eclipses the previous mark of 9,086 for the 2009 championship at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y. Among the record total are 52 players, including 11 past champions, who are currently fully exempt into the field. To be eligible, a player must have a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 1.4, or be a professional. The USGA received entries for the 113th U.S. Open from golfers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 73 foreign countries. This year marks the fifth time that the USGA received more than 9,000 entries for the U.S. Open Championship.

The U.S. Open is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association (USGA), 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The Washington State Golf Association (WSGA) is the local representative of the USGA and conducts this qualifier for the U.S. Open Championship.