Washington Huskies confident as they head to NCAA tournament

May 21, 2013
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Chris Williams endured snowy winters in his home state of Idaho while teaching himself to play golf. Cheng-Tsung Pan, the youngest of six children, was introduced to the game at 5 years old by his mother, who caddied at a local course in Taiwan.

Their unique paths have convened in the Pacific Northwest. Williams and Pan are two of the world’s best amateurs and teammates at the University of Washington. The Huskies are expected to contend for a national title at this year’s NCAA Championship, which will be played May 28-June 2 at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Woodstock, Ga. The course previously held the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in 2003.

“We know we can win. We have won before. It’s just about peaking at the right time,” said Williams, of Moscow, Idaho.

PGA TOUR Entertainment will follow the team’s tournament preparation under Coach Matt Thurmond, and show them off-course at the NCAA tournament in the series, "Everyday". Cameras captured the team's practice and conditioning sessions as they prepared for the NCAA regional in Tallahassee, Fla.

“A team is really formed by its struggle together,” Thurmond said of the team's conditioning sessions. The Huskies aren’t all work and no play, though. Thurmond organized a light-hearted Olympics before departing for regionals. Players filmed each other competing in Cornhole, Wiffle ball and 3-point shooting, as well as other events. “A lot of people think that would take away from our goal of being great at golf,” said Thurmond, whose team hosted a 128-man Cornhole tournament at its home event earlier in the season. “It leads to a team that is more together, more happy and more well-rounded.” 

Thurmond allowed cameras to have access to his team because, like the old cliché, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it matter? If no one’s looking, does it matter? We want a larger group of people and fans to gain fulfillment by being part of our program. This will let more people see who we are and what we’re all about, and enjoy the journey with us.”

Pan, the individual winner of last week’s NCAA Regional tournament, has one of the more unique backgrounds in college golf. He was second to Kyung-Tae Kim, a member of the 2011 International Presidents Cup team, at the 2006 Asian Games before leaving his home country to live and train in Florida. Pan made the quarterfinals of the 2007 U.S. Amateur at age 15, the youngest quarterfinalist since Bobby Jones. He also was medalist at the prestigious Western Amateur in 2009 and 2010. Williams won the event in 2012. 

Williams was awarded the Ben Hogan Award on Monday as the top player in college and amateur golf. He also won last year’s Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. That prize earned him spots in this year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship.

He’s the rare elite player who uses a 10-finger grip. He’s never had a lesson, learning to play by spending countless hours at the University of Idaho Golf Course in his hometown, sometimes walking the 15 minutes to the course when he couldn’t find a ride. Williams dominated high school golf in the state, which isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of golf prospects. His combined winning margin in his four state championships was more than 40 shots. Idaho’s long summers and light traffic at his home course helped his development, though. With the school’s students gone for the summer, the scruffy layout became his personal playground.

"I always knew I wanted to get better,” he said. And now he’s the best amateur in the world, and the leader of a national-championship contender.