Texas A&M off to hot start despite absence of Cameron Champ

Courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics

Texas A&M off to hot start despite absence of Cameron Champ

Men

Texas A&M off to hot start despite absence of Cameron Champ

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Golfweek. Following publication, the Aggies won the Marquette Intercollegiate (without Champ again) for their third straight victory to open the season.

Texas A&M head coach J.T. Higgins knew his team would be good with senior Cameron Champ in the lineup. He didn’t know they would be this good without him.

Not to knock this Aggies squad; Texas A&M’s roster is deep and talented. But when a player the caliber of Champ – an All-American, Walker Cup player, U.S. Open qualifier and T-32 finisher at Erin Hills this year – is absent, it certainly leaves a void.

Higgins has had plenty of pieces to fill that gap. Texas A&M started the season with victories at the Badger Invitational and Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, and is ranked second in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.

The Aggies put together a stunning final round to win at Olympia Fields. (Courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics)

“To go and win those two events without Cam in the lineup is really impressive,” Higgins said. “I’ve got to hand it to them, they stepped up and they really wanted to show that we’re more than just one or two players, that we’re pretty good top to bottom. Man, they’ve really answered the call.”

Higgins credits a strong summer by his team for fueling its hot start to the fall. Junior Chandler Phillips notched top-6 finishes at the Northeast and Trans-Miss amateurs. Sophomore Brandon Smith and senior Andrew Paysse made the cut at the Texas State Open, with Paysse finishing fourth to capture low-amateur honors. Freshman Walker Lee joined Champ at Erin Hills.

“Everyone came in playing the best golf they’ve played in a long time,” Higgins said.

Phillips, arguably the team’s most consistent player over the past two seasons, pointed to Smith as a prime example of improvement. Smith’s first qualifying score last season was 95. He opened qualifying with a 67 this fall and added a handful more sub-70 qualifying rounds.

“It’s crazy how we have progressed as a team and how some of these guys have progressed as individuals,” Phillips said.

Champ missed the opener because of the Walker Cup, which Higgins attended before flying with Champ from Los Angeles to Madison, Wis., to catch the final round of the Badger. The Aggies won by six shots as Phillips captured his third collegiate individual title. Four other Texas A&M players finished T-15 or better, including freshman Reese Ramsey (T-6), Paysse (T-10), Smith (T-13) and sophomore Josh Gliege (T-15 as an individual).

Texas A&M won its opener in Wisconsin. (Courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics)

The team then drove to Olympia Fields, Ill., as Champ was scheduled to rejoin his squad. But a tight back kept him out of the lineup again as Gliege slid into Champ’s spot and promptly finished T-4. Smith added a T-9 finish behind a final-round 65. As a team, Texas A&M set a tournament record with a closing 271 to win by nine shots.

“That final round, they looked different than everybody else,” said Higgins, who coached Texas A&M’s 2009 NCAA Championship team, “and I haven’t had a team (look) that way in quite a while.”

Champ missed a third consecutive event, the Marquette Intercollegiate, to play in the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open. But the Aggies have proved they can hold their own until he returns. Six of the seven players who played for Texas A&M this year have notched a top-10.

“Yeah, it sucks we’ve got probably our best player out, not playing,” Phillips said. “But also, it’s a good sign to us as a team, like the guys who have played, that we can compete with anyone without him, so when we do get him back, I don’t know if we’ll ever lose.”

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