Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 19: Cameron Champ plays his shot from the fifth tee during the first round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on April 19, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas.
SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 19: Cameron Champ plays his shot from the…
On a day when the wind slapped the field at the Valero Texas Open, observers could view newcomer Cameron Champ’s day favorably.
Champ, 22, who got into this year’s tournament on a sponsor’s exemption, came into first-round play with two solid advantages and some ancestral mojo.
The big-hitting Aggie can launch a golf ball into space. Think 350ish yards. That kind of power gives him a puncher’s chance anywhere.
The TPC AT&T Oaks course is the San Antonio resident’s home track. That means Champ got plenty of experience playing one of the most punishing layouts on the PGA tour.
His last name. Take it from a guy named Bragg who, as the surname suggests, tends to tell tall tales. For Champ’s purposes, this could be a good thing.
And in a final tuneup before the Valero last week, Champ posted a -2 on the AT&T Oaks course. More positivity.
“If you know this course,” he said, “that’s not too bad.”
Champ has been on the Web.com tour since leaving Texas A&M two semesters short of his degree in sports management. He’s won more than $22,000 in a half-dozen tournaments so far.
He was one of 14 amateurs allowed into the U.S. Open. Champ found himself tied for fourth after two rounds, only to slide down to the lower 30s in subsequent rounds. It was there, in preparation for the Open, that he cranked a 349.4-yard-long drive.
The Sacramento native was a high school golf team stud, earning Rolex All-American twice and ranked as high as fourth nationally. Champ appeared to be a lock to sign with a West Coast school. But a trip to a Houston junior tournament turned into an impromptu recruiting trip to Aggieland.
He liked what he saw.
“I really liked the small town atmosphere,” he said.
Champ was All-SEC and a semi-finalist for college golf’s national player of the year in his time in College Station.
After turning pro, Champ moved to San Antonio because his best friend lived here and excellent golf courses can be found all over the place.
Golf, the genteel game of ladies and gentlemen, lures players with promises of pretty scenery and cool shoes. In reality, the game is a sweaty exercise in frustration, schooling even the most accomplished players. It lays waste to their self-esteem. It humbles them by exposing their flaws.
Even without the sport’s top stars, the 156 golfers in the first round field are among the best in the world. And the lion’s share of them did poorly.
The AT&T Oaks course is unforgiving. Throw in a bizarre Hill Country sirocco that acted like an elemental Dikembe Mutombo, swatting away drives and steering putts astray.
The result was the golf equivalent of an ugly win in basketball for the handful who finished even or better. The first round was grinding at its grindiest.
Grayson Murray led after the first round at -5, with five guys at -4, five guys at -3, and 10 at -2.
Champ bogeyed Nos. 2, 8, 11 and 12 to finish even for the day.
With the sun setting and a chance to crawl out of the scrum of guys at 36 and go -1, Champ’s 14-foot putt went slightly right and died an inch from the hole.
“That basically sums up my day right there,” Champ said with a laugh after the 18th. “I think I did a pretty good keeping it on the course for the most part.”
On a day when some of the world’s best golfers got abuse by the wind, that’s a damn good day for a guy named Champ.