David Lauderdale

Meet the stranger who won the RBC Heritage: ‘Make every day better than every yesterday’

RBC Heritage winner C.T. Pan talks about his strategy for winning Hilton Head tourney

PGA Tour pro C.T. Pan wins his first tournament at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Sunday.
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PGA Tour pro C.T. Pan wins his first tournament at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Sunday.

Who in the world is P.T. Pan?

He’s the surprise champion of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

He’s a 5-foot-6 native of Taiwan, a 27-year-old whose dream came true on a breezy Easter Sunday at the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.

To most of us, he came out of nowhere. But for him, the plaid jacket in the South Carolina has been in the works since he was 5.

The odds have always been against him.

He came “from humble beginnings in Miaoli in northern Taiwan,” Chung Yu-chen wrote for Focus Taiwan News Channel.

He is the youngest of six children, four girls and two boys.

“He first started playing at an abandoned driving range where he and his brother and his late father, an elementary school teacher, would create holes with makeshift pin flags,” Helen Ross wrote for pgatour.com.

“By the time Pan was 7, he was competing in local junior tournaments and he was able to play at the local course where his mother still works as a caddie.”

His success led to leaving home when he was 15. Without knowing a word of English, Pan enrolled in the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, and started playing in American Junior Golf Association tournaments. That was his springboard to a scholarship at the University of Washington.

Success on the Web.com tour led to the PGA Tour, where he has played 79 events, making 50 cuts and only one other time flirting with victory.

His 1-stroke win over popular former Heritage champion Matt Kuchar was something Pan was struggling to grasp as he came into the media tent in his plaid jacket to take questions beside the trophy of Scotsman Sir Willie Innes.

“I’m still processing it,” he said.

And so are we.

Great advice

Pan’s real name is Pan Cheng-tsung.

His schedule last weekend tells a lot about the man nobody knows.

He had not planned to be here because it was the weekend of his first C.T. Pan Junior Championship at The Clubs of Kingwood in Houston. His wife, Michelle Li, insisted he needed to play in the Heritage, maybe because he had missed the cut in three of his last five starts. She would run the show in Houston.

But why would Pan focus on giving back to the game and to the community — even when he is not a household name?

In a blog for Golfweek written during his senior year in high school, Pan shared the influence of an older man who eventually became his golf adviser.

“He told me he wanted me to become a good citizen before I became a good player,” Pan wrote.

“A great player is a public figure, and his every move is in the spotlight. Therefore, it makes sense that being a good citizen is a stepping stone on the way to becoming a great player.”

Pan wanted to help other golfers along the way through his AJGA tournament. He flew 10 children from Taiwan to play. And on Saturday one of them won in Houston, before his milestone win here.

The adviser also told him to take the college scholarship rather than turn pro.

“He said, ‘Life consists of a lot of things, and golf is just one of them. Education is the way to help you explore those other things.’

“This simple idea totally changed the way I saw my life. In the first 14 years of my life, all I had was golf, and I accomplished a lot of work on the golf course. In contrast, outside the golf course, I nearly failed at everything. I knew I did not want this to be the case when I was older.”

On the course, he became the world’s top-ranked amateur and the only four-time finalist for the Ben Hogan Award issued annually to the America’s top male golfer. He made All-America at Washington, played in the Olympics, and won medals representing Asia in international competition.

Wife as caddie

It appears that Pan’s secret weapon is his wife, Michelle Lin.

She has helped him set goals, like getting into the Masters. That also was a dream of his late father’s, and it came true Sunday.

Michelle even caddied for her husband when he couldn’t find a local caddie for the Wyndham Championship last August in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“This is the true test of my marriage; hopefully, she will still be with me by the end of tournament,” he tweeted.

Pan mentioned, in his plaid jacket, that Michelle will caddie for him again next April when he tries for the green jacket at The Masters. But it will only be for the par-3 contest.

On Sunday, Pan fulfilled one last dream written about in his high school blog.

“Being a golfer, I always hope I can make every day better than every yesterday.”