Cheng-Tsung Pan had a pretty good day on the course. He felt even better about it when he scanned the scores.
"When I look at the scoreboard with my last name up there, it's pretty cool," he said.
Pan was one of several amateurs who had a respectable showing Thursday in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Pan shot a 2-over 72 at Merion Golf Club and put himself in solid position to make the cut.
Kevin Phelan topped the four amateurs who completed early rounds with a 1-over 71 that put him four shots behind clubhouse leader Phil Mickelson.
Pan and Phelan did great at No. 13: Both parred the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.
"It's always nice to be able to compare yourself to the best in the world," Phelan said. "It's the first time I've had a round anywhere close to them. It's nice, but there's a long way to go."
Pan, a 21-year-old who hails from Taiwan, is a junior at the University of Washington. He missed the cut in his other Open appearance in 2011, saying he was too excited and had too many distractions to play his best game.
He brought only two friends with him to Merion. And this time?
"I had it going," he said.
Pan, who also answered questions in Mandarin, wants to graduate from Washington and become the first member of his family to earn a degree.
He played nine holes Wednesday with his idol, Luke Donald, but never could bring himself to say how much he admired his game.
"Nah, too embarrassing," he said.
Phelan, who failed to make the cut in the 2010 Open, plans to turn pro later this year and attend Q-school. With more rounds like Thursday, Phelan just might reach his goal of making the Walker Cup team.
"It certainly can't hurt," said Phelan, 22, who lives in St. Augustine, Fla.
He was nervous before his first tee, but calmed down after his first swings. He came away from a practice round with Masters champion Adam Scott with some useful advice for taming the soggy course.
Sure, it's only Thursday and the amateurs concede there's too much golf ahead to start thinking about making the cut. But perhaps history could be on their side.
Only 21, amateur Jim Simons took a two-shot lead into the final day of the 1971 Open played at — yes, Merion. Trying to become the first amateur to win the event since 1933, Simon faded to fifth. Lee Trevino would go on to beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. No amateur has led again on the final day.
Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur in 1930 at Merion, clinching his Grand Slam.
On Thursday, Michael Kim had three birdies and shot a 3-over 73 to join Pan and Phelan as the top-three amateurs. The 19-year-old Kim was more jittery playing practice rounds than approaching his first Open tee shot.
"I didn't really feel too nervous out there, other than maybe a couple moments," he said. "I just tried to have fun. Tried not to expect too much."
Three of eight amateurs made the cut last year at Olympic Club and the best score for the tournament was Jordan Spieth at 7-over 287.
"The gap between amateur and pro, I think it's getting smaller," Pan said. "As an amateur, we're getting more chances, more opportunities to compete in professional events. We learn from those."