In each of his first three years on the PGA Tour, Cameron Champ ranked first, second and third in driving distance, averaging 317.9 yards, 322 yards and 317.1 yards respectively. It’s not just that the 6ft Texan blows it past most players in the game, but rather how he manages to do so. There’s not the explosive twitchiness and brawn of Bryson DeChambeau, he isn’t built like the sinewy and freakishly athletic Dustin Johnson and he doesn’t have the tightly wound torque and uncoiling of Rory McIlroy. Rather, at first glance he looks simply, well, normal, with a stance that’s slightly narrow and a smoothness that belies the prodigious power he produces.
Champ also isn’t just a one-trick sideshow. The 26-year-old already has three career victories, the first of which came at the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship in what was just his ninth career start on tour. Wins followed in 2019 and this year at the 3M Open in Minnesota, where he fended off dehydration and dizziness on his way to five birdies and a bogey-free 66 in the final round.
Even rarer, though, Champ – whose father is black and whose late grandfather grew up in the segregated Jim Crow South and later taught his grandson the game at a golf course in Texas – has become a provocateur for change, calling attention to continued racial and social imbalances within golf and beyond in the USA. He recently sat down with GM to talk about that, his burgeoning career and much more...
What players did you look up to when you were a child?
Tiger Woods is the obvious one as far as how he played. Adam Scott, I remember watching when I was a kid. Everything about his game just oozed cool. Bubba Watson is way up there for me, too. I think sometimes people misperceive him. My first year on tour was crazy. I was 21 years old and here I am playing with my idols. But Bubba was the one who kind of took me under his wing without even really asking. He’s been a huge help. He’s a great guy. I have so much respect for him.
Do you remember the first time you met Tiger?
I was 15 years old and my coach, Sean Foley, had just started working with him. But that was brief, and I was in awe. Then I met him when I got the Charlie Sifford exemption into the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in 2018. My grandfather was still around, too, and I remember he was there with us on the range and I had to warm up. It was a brief hello, we talked for a minute and then my grandfather talked to him for a bit. So it was definitely a cool experience to have my dad and my grandfather, the two people most responsible for me being where I am, getting to meet Tiger and spend time with him.
You won for the first time in 2018 then missed 11 cuts later that season. You won again in 2019 and missed six cuts and had just two top-tens the following year. You also missed the cut in nine of 15 starts before your victory this year. Your career has been very much feast or famine. How do you explain that?
I think it’s mainly age, just figuring out life. My whole identity growing up as a kid, through school and before I got married was golf. That was all I did. That was all I cared about. I’m married now. I have other responsibilities and my priorities kind of changed. That doesn’t mean being successful in golf isn’t important. I still have all these things I want to achieve. But at the end of the day, I was putting way too much pressure on myself every day. Once you start doing that, it has a downhill effect. Whenever your identity is lost, it’s hard to do anything.
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