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American amateurs flirt with leaderboard at U.S. Open

ARDMORE, PA. – Surrounded by golfers with decals of sponsors from head to toe, Cheng-Tsung Pan wore his modest University of Washington gear. Pan is competing among the professionals this week, even if he is not yet a pro.

Pan, who is from Taiwan and is one 10 amateurs in the U.S. Open field at Merion Golf Club this week, was near the top of the leaderboard early on Thursday before bogeying three consecutive holes on his way to a 2-over-par finish.

One group earlier, Kevin Phelan finished 1-over-par. An Ireland native who is from the University of North Florida, Phelan was also in the red for part of the afternoon. Two American amateurs – Gavin Hall and Moscow, Idaho’s Chris Williams, who was Pan’s teammate at Washington – were 1-under-par when play was suspended on Thursday night. And three other amateurs finished 2-over-par with Pan.

“The gap between amateur and pro, I think it’s getting smaller,” Pan said. “As an amateur, we get more chances, more opportunities at professional events. From those experiences, we get better.”

Both Phelan and Pan competed in the U.S. Open before. Both missed the cut. They’re hoping that can change this year, although that will require them to play more like they did early in their round (they both started on No. 11) than in their back stretch.

Pan did not bring any relatives in the area because he wants to keep a small group so he can better focus. He brought a larger group the last time he competed in the Open.

“That was my first time … I felt kind of overexcited,” Pan said. “My emotions were up-and-down so much, and I think that did affect my scores. This time, I feel more mature because I’m a veteran. I have a better mindset, and I play better.”

Pan, a sophomore at Washington, enjoys college and said he is in no rush to turn pro. He’s the first one in his family who will earn a college degree.