Champ is first area golfer ever named to U.S. Walker Cup team – highest amateur honor

Cameron Champ hits on the second hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open golf tournament June 18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.
Cameron Champ hits on the second hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open golf tournament June 18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. The Associated Press

Cameron Champ received the highest honor in men’s amateur golf Monday when he was named to the 2017 United States Walker Cup team.

He will be the first Sacramento player to ever participate in the 95-year-old biennial team competition that will pit 10 U.S. players against a 10-man team from Great Britain and Ireland on Sept. 9-10 at Los Angeles Country Club.

Champ, 22, went from nowhere in the Walker Cup discussion at the start of the year to a virtual lock with a sizzling summer that included tying for 32nd at the U.S. Open, winning the Trans-Mississippi Amateur by four shots, finishing second in the Pacific Coast Amateur and making the semifinals of the Western Amateur.

He’s ranked between No. 1 and No. 8 among world amateurs, depending on the source. As one of the longest hitters in golf, he will be a nightmare to face in Walker Cup two-man and singles matches.

But Champ didn’t reach this pinnacle alone. There will be a lot of proud people who will either make the trip to L.A. or watch on TV from Sacramento that weekend who have supported him with their time, money, guidance and expertise over the years.

“It takes a village; it honestly does,” said Jeff Champ, Cameron’s appreciative father.

By making the Walker Cup team, Champ did something Verne Callison, Bob Lunn, Bob E. Smith, Robert Hamilton, Brad Bell, Robert Meyer, David Sutherland and Spencer Levin – historically the area’s best amateurs – didn’t. And those players accounted for wins in three U.S. Public Links, three Porter Cups, three Western Amateurs, two California Amateurs and 10 California State Fair Amateurs.

“Huge,” said Ken Morton Sr., the dean of Sacramento golf, assessing the accomplishment.

What makes it particularly satisfying for Morton is he remembers when Champ was a 7-year-old Little Linker getting started at Haggin Oaks.

“To see how he’s matured as a young man is flat amazing,” Morton said. “To see him evolve, and the community get behind him and support his development over the years, it’s special.”

Assistance has come from a cross-section of the community, Jeff Champ said. To name a few: Clyde Daniels helped with early instruction; the First Tee of Greater Sacramento provided structure and a place to play; Randy and Rory Ramirez became family friends and offered counsel; and PGA Tour caddie John Wood provided key national introductions.

The Morton Golf Foundation and countless others provided financial support, using amateur golf associations as pass-throughs, that allowed Champ to pursue ambitious and expensive national schedules that otherwise might not have been possible.

“The Mortons helped out. People we don’t even know have helped us out,” Jeff Champ said. “(Instructor Sean Foley) has been very kind to our family when it comes to the cost of lessons and that kind of stuff. It just keeps going from there.”

The Ramirez brothers are an example of the organic nature of community support. Randy, a strong player on the local scene for decades, met Champ at Whitney Oaks when he was 11 and served as an early mentor. In turn, Ramirez introduced Rory to the Champs. He’s since served as a fundraiser, sounding board and second set of eyes to the family.

“When I met the family, I just thought it was one of those great opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life that could use a break,” said Rory, a former Yuba City mayor.

He expects nothing in return, he said, other than the satisfaction of seeing Champ fulfill his dreams.

“If we could be a part of that journey and make it something special, what else do you need?” he said.

Champ will try to help America beat the snot out of Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup, in the most gentlemanly of fashions of course, before returning to Texas A&M for his senior season. Then graduation, then a swing at a potentially lucrative pro career.

The process started with grass roots.

“Support came from all over the map,” Jeff Champ said. “Yes, Cam is a minority, but I think a lot of people just saw his talent as a young man and wanted to support him. He’s a humble kid.”

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak