Is Cameron Champ making powerful statement with his fast start?

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 11: Cameron Champ of the United States reacts to his eagle on the fifth green during the final round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course on November 11, 2018 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Rob Carr/Getty Images

Is Cameron Champ making powerful statement with his fast start?

Digital Edition

Is Cameron Champ making powerful statement with his fast start?

The start of the Cameron Champ era has lived up to the hype. The Sacramento, Calif. native who began the 2018-19 PGA Tour season tabbed as the sport’s next game changer proved to be the most dominant golfer in the fall events.

He pounded courses, and most of his competition into submission, won his first career event and earned nearly $1.3 million. At 23, he has started his rookie year on Tour by making the cut at all five events he has played, notched three top-10 finishes and shot in the 60s in 14 of his first 20 rounds, including a 62 and a 63.

At the end of 2017, Champ was No. 1,057 in the Official World Golf Ranking. After finishing sixth at the RSM Classic, he is No. 97.

As the PGA Tour digests its turkey and takes a break before resuming in Hawaii in January, we are left to ponder an obvious question: Is this what we should expect from Champ going forward?

As anyone who has seen him play will attest, his greatest attribute is power off the tee. Through the conclusion of the RSM Classic, he is averaging 328.2 yards in driving distance, about 9 yards farther than Rory McIlroy’s Tour-leading average last season. His strokes gained off the tee average is currently 1.483, which means he is earning a nearly six-shot edge over the field based exclusively on the quality of his driving.

To give that advantage more perspective, the chart below shows the season-ending strokes gained off the tee leaders since 2004, when the category was created.

Everyone in the chart is a big hitter, but the only player who finished a season with an average higher than Champ’s current clip is Bubba Watson, who ended 2012 two-thousandths of a stroke better (1.485).

Champ’s sample size is very small and most of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season lies ahead. It’s worth noting that since the PGA Tour began the wrap-around schedule, players who led the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee after the conclusion of the fall events have seen a massive decrease in their average throughout the rest of the season (see table below).

Exactly how much Champ’s strokes gained off the tee may come down will play a massive part in determining his success this season. But if you compare some of Champ’s numbers with Watson’s during his record-breaking 2012 season, there are reasons for Champ to feel optimistic.

When Watson finished 2012 with the highest season-ending strokes gained off the tee average ever, 1.485, his average swing speed that year was 124.69, his average ball speed was 184.98 mph and his driving accuracy percentage was 58.85.

So far this year, Champ leads the PGA Tour in average clubhead speed at 130.2 mph and average ball speed at 193.61 mph. He is also hitting 61.79 percent of the fairways.

Unless the rookie suffers an injury, Champ’s numbers indicate he could emerge as one of the most dominant drivers of the ball golf has ever had.

Champ is also putting at a high level, ranking 28th in strokes gained putting with an average of 0.829. So while his iron play and short game have been inconsistent, his driver and putter have vaulted him to eighth in scoring average (69.096).

Even if Champ’s putting numbers go down to a level typically associated with the game’s elite drivers, between 0.0 and 0.3, his long game will keep him in contention at a lot of events.

Champ’s coach, Sean Foley, has a track record of working with and developing excellent ballstrikers, such as prized pupil Justin Rose. If Champ can improve his iron game over the next few seasons while maintaining his outstanding driving, he will be a force on the PGA Tour.

Champ has proved he can win on the Tour, and the numbers certainly indicate his game could be elite. What we’ve seen so far might be what we keep seeing for some time. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home