Champ takes lead at Memorial Amateur

Cameron Champ fired a 5-under 65 on Sunday to take the lead at the Memorial Amateur.

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CARMICHAEL, Calif. – Last week, the Sacramento Bee opined that Cameron Champ could become the “best golfer ever from Sacramento.” As Kevin Sutherland, Nick Watney and Natalie Gulbis all grew up and played golf in the area, it’s quite a billing to live up to, considering Champ has yet to step foot on campus for his freshman year at Texas A&M, let alone turn professional.

On Sunday at the Memorial Amateur, his game spoke for itself.

Champ shot a 5-under 65 at Ancil Hoffman Golf Course, using his distance to his advantage, as he made six birdies and just one bogey. He shot 70 yesterday, for a two-round total of 135.

The course is tight with trees on both sides of every fairway, which is usually a disadvantage for bombers like Champ. His game plan this week has been to hit driver off nearly every hole, however, and so far it has worked.

“For me, [the course] sets up well,” Champ said. “I like tree lines, and my distance comes into play here.”

He missed his first green of the day, the 10th hole, which led to a bogey, but he did not miss a green for the rest of the day. He nearly drove the 348-yard par-4 first hole, putting his tee shot on the front fringe and converting an easy up-and-down for birdie.

The birdie sparked a 4-under 32 on his inward nine, which included birdies on both par 5s. After going 3 over on his last five holes yesterday, a strong finish was a welcome adjustment for Champ.

He leads Jonny Baxter by a single stroke, who is in second alone at 4-under 136. Baxter shot a solid 67 on Sunday, thanks to birdies on three of his last four holes. Baxter plays for nearby UC Davis.

“Today I putted really well,” Baxter explained. “Yesterday my ball striking was better and I didn’t putt as well, but today they started dropping, which was nice.”

Matt Hansen, a teammate of Baxter’s who just finished his career at UC Davis, shot a 3-under 67 for a two-round total of 137, and sits in third. Earlier this week Hansen was named to the Division I PING All-West Team by the Golf Coaches Association of America.

First-round leaders Eric Taylor and Andrew Roberts fell back a bit, but are still in contention heading into tomorrow. Taylor shot a 1-over 71 and is T-4 at 138, while Roberts managed a 72, and is T-6 at 139.

The tournament makes a cut to the low 37 and ties for the final round. This year, 39 players are at 144 or better after two rounds, with last year’s runner-up Matt Cohn among those squeaking in on the number.

The course played tougher than it did yesterday, courtesy of tucked pins and the Memorial Amateur tradition of playing many of the holes from different tees each day.

Tomorrow’s final-round setup is expected to include two drivable par 4s, along with three other par 4s at 490 yards or more.

“My philosophy is to have a different course each day,” noted tournament director John Rochelle. “I want the players to think, instead of just bombing driver every hole.”

With a mixture of confidence, distance, and accuracy, Champ is proving that, if you are long enough, playing aggressive and hitting driver on every hole can work at the Memorial Amateur. Even with the lead, Champ has no plans on changing his strategy for tomorrow.

“I’ll be playing the same,” Champ said. “I was playing aggressive to start, hitting driver on every hole, being aggressive and confident, so I’ll just keep that up.”

If he wins, and returns next year to defend his title, Rochelle might end up spending the winter planning new ways to Cam-proof the course.

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