Sky's the limit for Champ
September 19, 2018
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
Cameron Champ wins Utah Championship
The first time Sean Foley saw Cameron Champ hit a golf ball, he was 14, and he blasted a 4-iron 230 yards.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” recalls Foley, the noted swing instructor who works with world No. 1 Justin Rose and formerly with Tiger Woods.
“When he started hitting balls, I was just in awe, really. I’ve worked with a lot of really great junior golfers and they’re great for different reasons, but I’ve never seen a kid, at 14, have an in-control 180 (miles per hour) ball speed off the tee.”
Fast-forward eight years and Champ is on the cusp of his first year on the PGA TOUR. The 23-year-old won the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank in July, and stands sixth on The 25 entering the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.
Champ’s numbers this year on the Web.com Tour are mind-boggling: first in driving distance, second in scoring average, first in total eagles, second in ball-striking, fourth in greens in regulation.
Not only is Champ hitting it longer than anyone on Tour – and, arguably, longer than anyone on the planet – he’s also hitting it straighter than almost anyone, too.
“You have no idea how straight he hits it. Imagine Hunter Mahan from an accuracy standpoint, but 30 yards longer than Dustin Johnson,” says Foley.
Foley says Champ’s golf IQ is continuing to improve, and his approach to the game is something they’ll continue to work on together moving forward.
He used to just “get up and hit it,” says Foley, but Champ’s understanding of the “why” in golf, versus the “how,” is something that has been measurably improved as he looks towards the PGA TOUR.
“When you have that kind of physics and that kind of speed … its all geometry after that,” says Foley.
“There are footprints on the moon, so I guess the sky’s not the limit for him.”
Champ grew up just outside of Sacramento, California, and started playing golf when he was two years old.
His grandfather, “Pops,” got him into the game with a plastic set of clubs. He grew up playing at a par-3 course near his house called the Foothill Golf Center. Holes measured upwards of 120 yards and Champ laughs – since this past year he averaged 343 yards off the tee – how he couldn’t reach most of those greens from the tee.
Memories of golf start to creep in starting when he was four or five, he says. The course at Foothill had a monthly pass that was only $50, and Champ says he’d go out there as much as he could with his grandfather and father.
Things have come full-circle at Foothill, as Champ says his foundation is finalizing a lease of the golf center, so he can use it for junior golf programs.
A tattoo Champ has on his side is dedicated to his grandparents. His grandfather was on-site in Portland when Champ received his PGA TOUR card, and in a caption on Instagram, Champ waxed poetic about what his grandfather – who had been hooked up to a dialysis machine for most of 2017 but is now healthy – meant to him.
“The greatest man alive,” Champ wrote. “The man who started me at 2 years old in his backyard with plastic clubs in North Highlands CA (sic) and now at 23 sharing this moment is something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life.”
The tattoo Champ has is of Proverb 3:6 – ‘in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy path’ – and Champ says it’s his grandparents’ favorite verse.
“It’s stuck with me over the years,” he says. “It’s a reminder to keep pushing no matter what, and don’t let anything affect you.”
Champ’s grandfather is African-American, and a favorite saying of his is, “It’s not where you’re from, but it’s where you’re going.”
Champ says that, to him, means that no matter what one’s background is, that doesn’t determine one’s future. He knew his grandfather, at the time he was growing up, wasn’t able to do the majority of things a Caucasian could do.
“To be able to see what he did and what he turned into was special,” says Champ of his grandfather.
Champ admits he didn’t come from much. His parents put everything into Champ’s golf pursuits, and it paid off as he earned a full scholarship to Texas A&M. That was his only goal, he says, to get his college education paid for.
“Everything else now is a bonus,” he says. “My parents can come enjoy it now. I know it was definitely stressful. Golf is very expensive. To see it all pay off and for (my parents) to enjoy it, and see them come to tournaments is definitely fulfilling.”
Cameron Champ's ace on No. 15 at LECOM Health
The only thing on Champ’s Instagram account that has little to do with golf or family is a video of a 2016 Chevrolet Duramax truck, whose engine growls for a good 10 seconds.
With upgrades to most of it, the truck sits on wheels about two feet off the ground. It’s aggressive, and loud, and a truly impressive machine.
But it’s also Champ’s only vehicle, which means the Web.com Tour winner will be rolling up to his home club in a 700-horsepower truck.
“That’s my only car,” he says with a laugh.
The truck has been a work in progress since he bought it, but working on cars and trucks is the escape Champ needs from golf. While many golfers choose fishing or other sports, Champ says he’s always been into working on cars.
Since Champ is earning his own money now on Tour, he has become more into working on cars, saying that he likes doing it. He’s tried to learn to do everything himself, but a lot of the work takes time, which he admits he really doesn’t have much of right now.
“If I could, I would,” he says. “My cousins race and do all that fun stuff, so I just try to learn from them, and that’s how I fell in love with it.”
The car will be done Tuesday – with a new twin-turbo kit, a new injector, an injector pump and some engine upgrades – and coming to a golf course near San Antonio will be Champ’s new machine.
“Next up is hopefully to get an old beat-up one and build it from there,” Champ says enthusiastically. “Trucks and cars … are my escape.”
Champ admits that this year, everything was new. He had to figure out a lot of things travel-wise (he also played five PGA TOUR events along with a 21-event Web.com Tour schedule) and how to go about practicing. He also made a caddie change in Knoxville, but things fell into place after that.
“I got into a groove there in the middle of the season,” he says. “In the beginning I did a lot of learning the first few events, and then just adjusted from there.”
In a season of cool moments, the Californian had one major one stand out – he got to tee it up with NBA superstar Stephen Curry during the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae for the first two competitive rounds.
Although Champ says he hasn’t tried to reach out to him yet, when Curry and the Golden State Warriors come to San Antonio, he says he’ll try to have the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player out for a round.
“I know they always bring their (clubs) with them, so that will be interesting. He was awesome. Easy to talk to,” says Champ. “Talking to him, you wouldn’t think he was one of the most famous basketball players on the planet. That was a nice surprise.”
Prior to the Ellie Mae Classic, where he finished tied for 30th, there was a stretch of five tournaments this summer when Champ didn’t finish outside the top eight on the leaderboard, going T4-7-T5-T8-1. He missed only one cut the last 10 weeks of the year.
“We have a good idea of where need to improve and how to do that. Particularly for Cameron, it’s just about patience,” says Foley.
And although Champ has been patient enough to get to the PGA TOUR, the first event of the 2018-19 season is right around the corner – and it’s right around the corner from where he grew up, too. The Safeway Open is only about 50 minutes from Champ’s hometown, and he’s excited to have a robust following that week.
“A year ago, if I could say I would have my PGA TOUR card, I would be jumping around like a little kid,” says Champ. “I’m just really looking forward to getting out there and playing with guys I’ve watched on TV for so many years.”
And indeed, for Cameron Champ, it’s not where he’s from, it’s where he’s going: the PGA TOUR.
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