Editor’s note: This story appeared in the June 12 digital issue of Golfweek Magazine.
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Texas A&M senior Cameron Champ qualified for his first major championship by hanging tough.
After missing a 5-footer for par on his 36th and final hole, the par-4 ninth at Big Canyon at the June 5 U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Newport Beach, Calif., Champ found himself in a tie with Stanford junior Brandon Wu for the sixth and final qualifying spot at 6 under.
“Obviously I was frustrated,” Champ said, “but I still knew I had a chance.”
As daylight grew thinner, Champ got another crack at a clinching putt on Big Canyon’s ninth hole, the first of the playoff, as he stared down a 30-footer for birdie. Wu had a longer putt on a similar line and left his birdie attempt just shy of the hole. Champ, knowing the line, wasn’t going to leave his short. He didn’t.
Champ gave a big fist pump, but it was his dad, Jeff, who had the bigger celebration. His son was going to play in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
“My dad was kind of yelling, all happy and stuff,” Champ said of the man who carried his bag for the second round. “He was just proud of me, the way I fought. … I had a few tough breaks coming in, but to make that putt, it was kind of just icing on the cake.”
Champ is used to bouncing back.
The Sacramento, Calif., native arrived in College Station, Texas, as a touted recruit who absolutely crushed the ball off the tee. But his first semester with the Aggies got off to an unfortunate start. Champ had to withdraw from his first college event with a back injury – two bulging disks and a minor stress fracture.
“It didn’t require surgery; I basically had to let it heal on its own,” Champ said. “It just took time.”
Even as a sophomore, Champ had problems with his back. The pain would return at times, and even when his back wasn’t hurting, he was always worried about doing damage.
“I was always like, ‘I don’t want to hit this particular shot because it might cause me pain,’ ” Champ said. “This year was the first year I didn’t really have to worry about anything. I have no stress about that now. I can just play.”
As a junior, Champ enjoyed his best season yet. He won the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, an event from which he withdrew from two years prior, and posted four other top-5 finishes to go with a 71.5 scoring average in 34 rounds. He capped his year with top-6 finishes in five of his last seven starts, including a T-5 showing at the SEC Championship, where he also went 3-0 in match play.
Champ is back to his normal self. He recently made a trip to Ping, and his ball speed with the driver was measured at 190 mph. He’s excited about his senior year, too, as he has just 14 credit hours left to complete his bachelor’s degree in sports management (he’ll take 12 of them this fall).
“It will be nice in the spring to be able to just focus on golf,” Champ said.
Champ’s current focus is on Erin Hills. He left Friday for Wisconsin and planned to walk the course with family friend John Wood, who caddies for Matt Kuchar, on Saturday. He also set up practice rounds with several pros, including Rory McIlroy, through his instructor, Sean Foley.
As for Champ’s dad, he will watch from outside the ropes this time. Jeff has a bad back, too, and it was hurting him after his looping stint in the sectional. The only thing that got him through?
“His adrenaline was going the whole day, especially down the stretch,” Champ said.
Chances are that adrenaline will return at 2:31 p.m. Thursday, when the dad watches his boy tee off in his first major championship.
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A quick look at the 14 amateurs competing in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
|Player||Age||Residence||School (class)||How they qualified|
|Mason Andersen||18||Chandler, Ariz.||Arizona State (freshman)||sectionals, Newport Beach, Calif.|
|Cameron Champ||21||Sacramento, Calif.||Texas A&M (senior)||sectionals, Newport Beach, Calif.|
|Christopher Crawford||23||Bensalem, Pa.||Drexel (grad)||sectionals, Summit, N.J.|
|Brad Dalke||19||Norman, Okla.||Oklahoma (junior)||exemption, U.S. Amateur runner-up|
|Scott Gregory||22||Waterlooville, England||N/A||exemption, British Amateur champion|
|Stewart Hagestad||26||Newport Beach, Calif.||USC (graduate)||sectionals, Newport Beach, Calif.|
|Scott Harvey||39||Greensboro, N.C.||West Florida/High Point (grad)||sectionals, Summit, N.J.|
|Walker Lee||19||Houston||Texas A&M (freshman)||sectionals, Dallas|
|Maverick McNealy||21||Portola Valley, Calif.||Stanford (graduate)||exemption, McCormack Medal|
|Joaquin Niemann||18||Santiago, Chile||South Florida (freshman)||sectionals, Tequesta, Fla.|
|John Oda||21||Honolulu||UNLV (senior)||sectionals, Newport Beach, Calif.|
|Scottie Scheffler||20||Dallas||Texas (senior)||sectionals, Columbus, Ohio|
|Alex Smalley||20||Wake Forest, N.C.||Duke (junior)||sectionals, Ball Ground, Ga.|
|Sahith Theegala||19||Chino Hills, Calif.||Pepperdine (junior)||sectionals, Newport Beach, Calif.|