Taiwan's Pan gets second chance to defend PGA Heritage title

AFP
Taiwan's defending champion C.T. Pan, right, and his caddie and wife Michelle, left, enjoy a practice round before Thursday's start of the US PGA Tour Heritage tournament at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (AFP Photo/STREETER LECKA)
Taiwan's defending champion C.T. Pan, right, and his caddie and wife Michelle, left, enjoy a practice round before Thursday's start of the US PGA Tour Heritage tournament at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (AFP Photo/STREETER LECKA)

Washington (AFP) - Taiwan's C.T. Pan felt sure the chance to defend his first US PGA Tour title had vanished when the RBC Heritage tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But when a revamped schedule for the season was announced to return from a three-month layoff, Pan was happy to see the showdown at Harbour Town back in the lineup starting Thursday.

"I was really sad to see this cancelled," Pan said. "Usually, cancellation means I won't be back for the whole year until '20-21. So, when they announced the new schedule, it was quite a surprise to me. I was really happy to see that."

After waiting only two extra months instead of 12, Pan will try to duplicate his crown against a world-class field at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that includes his playing partners for the first two days, American Rickie Fowler and world number one Rory McIlroy.

"It's great to be back," Pan said. "It was my first victory and it's probably the one I will always remember."

Pan withdrew on the eve of the Players Championship last March in Florida because of his concerns about coronavirus and playing in front of spectators.

The tour came to see it his way a day later and halted the season after round one, while Pan was on his way home to Houston.

"It was a really tough decision. In my whole career, including junior golf, I've never withdrawn from a tournament," Pan said. "But for the safety of my family and myself, my wife and I, we think that was the right call to pull myself out early."

- Model for NBA, MLB? -

Pan was greatly impressed by the safety precautions the tour had in place last week at Colonial in the first tour event back from the layoff.

"The tour has put out so much effort the last two months to create a safe environment for us to play," Pan said. "Last week, I was totally impressed by how they do things. The testing is impressively quick and easy. The social distancing, they're still doing that. And the grab and go meals, that's something I suggested them to do and they said that's great.

"I think they're trying to follow the rules just like everyone else out there, and hopefully they will be the model for NBA and Major League Baseball to proceed to their next steps."

Now Pan and wife-caddie Michelle drive a motorhome between events so they can avoid flying.

"My wife is on the bag this week," Pan said. "She wasn't here last year when I won. So I kind of told her how I played each hole and even each shot. That was really fun to go through again."

Pan, the first Taiwanese winner on the US PGA Tour since T.C. Chen took the 1987 Los Angeles Open, went 2-1 for the Internationals as they came within 16-14 before losing to the United States in last December's Presidents Cup in Australia.

The Heritage is usually a more relaxing event played the week after the Masters just down the road from Augusta National, but a world-class field is on hand this week, including Americans Brooks Koepka, Reed and Daniel Berger, last week's winner in Texas.

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