Golf

Cameron Champ left impression on major winners in first U.S. Open appearance

Cameron Champ hits on the second hole of the U.S. Open on Sunday at Erin Hills. The Sacramento native finished tied for 32nd.
Cameron Champ hits on the second hole of the U.S. Open on Sunday at Erin Hills. The Sacramento native finished tied for 32nd. The Associated Press

Cameron Champ just played in his first U.S. Open, beginning with the opening round on his birthday Thursday and ending with his final round Sunday on Father’s Day at Erin Hills Golf Course. The Texas A&M star finished tied for 32nd.

The Sacramento native arrived in Wisconsin with his father last Friday and immediately headed to the golf course for a nine-hole round. His practice rounds would increase in star power as the following day he walked the course and mapped out a plan with Sacramento’s John Wood, who is Matt Kuchar’s caddie. Champ said Wood took him around every green as they discovered where you can and can’t miss the putting surface on approach shots.

On Sunday, Champ played with 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, who was impressed with the amateur’s game.

“Louis came up to me and said, ‘Wow, your kid is good,” said Sean Foley, Champ’s swing coach of seven years. Foley currently teaches 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose and Si Woo Kim, who won The Players Championship in May. Foley also once worked with Tiger Woods for a few years.

When Rory McIlroy joined Champ for a practice round on Monday, Champ promptly outdrove him by 30 yards on the first two holes, according to Foley. After Champ’s drive on the second hole, a short par-4, stopped just short of the green, McIlroy couldn’t help but to ask Foley about his pupil.

“He asked me, ‘What is his ball speed?’ ” Foley said. “And I told him 195 miles per hour.”

McIlroy’s max is 181, so the four-time major winner was impressed.

Shocked as McIlroy may have been, he also game Champ some friendly advice.

“He told me on Tour it’s all about hitting it furthest and straightest, so just keep hitting driver, which is pretty much what I did this week,” Champ said.

“But playing with (McIlroy and Oosthuizen) boosted my confidence. Their experience is obviously 100 percent better than me, but it was great to watch them play.”

Many outside the ropes, whether at Erin Hills or at home in Sacramento, enjoyed watching Champ play this week and by the time he posted 5-under through two rounds on Friday, only two off the lead, his phone was blowing up with messages and notifications. Champ counted up to 60 text messages and 150 notifications on Facebook. As he went through those 150, he got another 150. By the time he saw those come in, it was time to get to sleep and be rested for the biggest weekend of his career.

In the end, Champ entered Sunday at 4-under, two ahead of Scottie Scheffler for low amateur honors, but he finished the tournament at even-par 288 on Sunday after a 4-over 76 – one shot more than Scheffler.

“My goal going into this week was to get in the hunt for low amateur and I accomplished that,” Champ said. “I was disappointed that I couldn’t get that honor, too, but I’m really happy for Scottie because he’s a good friend of mine.”

Champ and Scheffler met in AJGA and junior golf events in the fall of 2012 and first played in a significant event together at the Junior Ryder Cup just 2 1/2 hours from Erin Hills at Olympia Fields, near Chicago. The two high schoolers helped the Americans win the event.

Champ smiled Sunday as he talked with The Bee and remembered Scheffler also edging him out by one shot at the 2014 Sage Valley Junior Invitational in South Carolina. Champ said they joked with each other before the round, and Champ made a significant move, going 4 under through nine holes, but Scheffler – as he did Sunday – found a way to beat Champ.

Back in Sacramento, First Tee executive director Angie Dixon watched anxiously on her phone Sunday as Champ played his final round. She took great pride in seeing one of her players, one who shot 81 in his first First Tee event at Plumas Lake at age 9 to beat 12- and 13-year-olds, on the U.S. Open stage.

“Golf Channel reached out to our office throughout the week looking for photos of him in our programs, and I had a few nostalgic moments going through our photo albums,” Dixon said. “We’re super excited for him and just happy to see him do well.”

Of course, Jeff Champ knows how lucky that everything was with the timing of birthdays and Father’s Day.

“Cameron qualified for the U.S. Open at Newport Beach Country Club on June 5th in the sectional qualifier, which is on his grandfather’s birthday,” he said. “He played his first ever U.S. Open round on Thursday the 15th, his own birthday, and he finished his final round on Father’s Day? Wow, this is some pretty special stuff.”

Champ left Erin Hills on Sunday having played with golf’s best and beaten many of them, including McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Not bad for a first professional round.

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