Golf — Amateur Cameron Champ dazzles with long drives, low scores at U.S. Open

Golf


ERIN, Wis. — Some of golf’s biggest names received an introduction to Cameron Champ‘s prodigious length off the tee early during this U.S. Open week. Ernie Els watched the amateur smoke a ball past him on the 18th hole of a practice round and then asked nobody in particular, “Who hit that?” Louis Oosthuizen witnessed his swing and just started giggling with his caddie. Even Rory McIlroy took note.

The rest of us had to wait until the tournament rounds began.

That’s when Champ, a rising senior at Texas A&M, showed the world what his fellow competitors had learned already: He’s not just long off the tee, he’s ridiculously long.

On Thursday, he averaged — brace yourself, folks — 349.4 yards per drive. On Friday, he reeled it in and averaged a mere 329.1 yards. That left a two-day total of 339.2 that was two yards longer than the next player on the list and — brace yourself again — nearly 70 yards longer than the man who ranked last.

Those numbers alone would be a neat story: The big-hitting kid on the longest golf course in major championship history.

But the story didn’t end there. No, the amateur with the great name and greater swing didn’t just mash his ball around Erin Hills. He got it into the hole in a hurry too.

Champ posted rounds of 70-69 for a 5-under total that has him in contention at the U.S. Open entering the weekend.

Pretty good for a guy who admits he had “no expectations” entering this week.

“The course sets up very well for me off the tee,” explained Champ, who will go into the weekend tied for eighth. “If you hit it off the tee, you can score.”

Oh, Champ can hit it off the tee. He just can’t explain how.

Some people are gifted when it comes to playing the piano or solving math equations. His gift is belting a golf ball really far.

“I just naturally have done it since I was 15 or 16,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little farther, but a lot more straighter. When I was younger, it went everywhere. That didn’t work out too well.”

Most of us, if we could average 340 yards off the tee at the U.S. Open, better than Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson and every other big-name big hitter, would never be able to stop talking about it. We’d wear T-shirts that read: “I OUTDROVE DJ.” We’d put up signs in our front lawns. We’d walk up to complete strangers and tell ’em our story.

Champ, who turned 22 on Thursday, shrugs it off like it’s no big deal.

“I don’t say anything,” he said. “I’m a pretty humble person. I don’t talk much when I play. I stick to myself.”

A native of Sacramento, California, Champ spent his first two years at Texas A&M dealing with back and shoulder injuries. In his first fully healthy season, he won the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational and posted a half-dozen other top-10 finishes.

He followed the breakthrough campaign by advancing through both local and sectional qualifying — the latter in a playoff — to reach the biggest tournament of his young career.

His father, Jeff, knew how much it meant to him.

“You try to tell your kid, no expectations, but you know how nervous he is,” the elder Champ said. “[Thursday], when he teed off in the afternoon, he had a sandwich and he took one bite: ‘I can’t eat anymore.’ He’s hit so many balls over his life he said, ‘Dad, if I can get off the first tee, I’ll be OK.'”

He has been a lot better than OK so far.

Through two rounds, Champ finds himself high up on a leaderboard that doesn’t include Jason Day or McIlroy, each of whom missed the cut.

And you can bet his fellow competitors are keeping an eye on Champ — not just on the leaderboard, but on the range too — trying to catch a glimpse of the guy who’s leading them all in driving distance.

As to whether that fact even surprises him, Champ simply shrugs.

“I knew I’d be around the top, just from the numbers I’ve put up,” he said. “It’s great to have and take advantage of.”



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