Insane Off the Tee, Champ Wins First PGA
Earlier today, I read an account of the early 2000s, when Tiger Woods was the most consistently high quality driver in the business. Some mention was made of other beasts like John Daly, but he was a little different. Driving outrageous distances was a cornerstone of the typical Tiger victory. He knew that he still had to chip putt, but if he could hit wedges to far-away greens instead of 5-irons, the chipping and putting part was bound to go better as well. At that quality level, the “drive for show, putt for dough” adage could be bent a bit. For Daly, hitting a massive drive was more of a personality trait. Then I read a second article suggesting that with Tiger’s loosened grip on the winner’s circle, there will be new number ones, and not necessarily faces with which we are familiar. It further hinted that some of the present greats, still not out of their thirties, have already peaked, making way for these new arrivals. Enter Cameron Champ, this week’s winner of the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s brand new at the PGA Tour, which makes the victory momentous enough, but there’s more.
A half hour before his Sunday tee time, Cameron Champ cracked his driver head on the range by hitting it too hard, with clubhead speeds of around 130 mph. He had a back-up, but struggled in the front nine. Around the turn he had some epiphany abut how hard he and his family had worked for him to get there, and proceeded to run away with the tournament. On the 460 yard 16th, Champ uncorked a 322 yard blast, and rolled in a 40 foot birdie putt. That teaches us that we should keep the “drive for show, putt for dough” thing around. Such epiphanies do not necessarily translate into great golf shots. I’ve had a million Road to Damascus moments, and still ended up in the lake. For Champ, however, it worked. If he seemed blase about the 322 yard drive, it’s because he had averaged 350 at the U.S. Open. Incidentally, it wasn’t just the 16th. Champ birdied five of the last six.
I am the first admit that I’ve never heard of Cameron Champ, but he’s apparently real. A Sacramento native, he played for Texas A&M, and did a lot of winning for the Aggies. Still, going from Q School to a minor tour, then a win on the PGA with an exemption through 2021 seems like an awfully quick trip to the top. The long drive approach, provided one can pull it off, challenges my view as a purist who has often said he would sacrifice a few yards if they would only go straight. A guy like Champ, however, is adding 70 yards or more to an already decent distance, and has a recovery game for errant drives, which I don’t have. Maybe he doesn’t need the fairway as much as I do. Maybe I should work on recovery shots and hitting over sheds and high trees instead of taking what ‘boom’ I still have off the tee box.
Clearly, the long drive is not merely a personality trait or novelty with Cameron Champ. He’s not a novelty type of big hitter’s personality, either, with all due respect to Daly, who did some winning that included a major. At any rate, after a wire-to-wire victory in his rookie year, I won’t forget Champ’s name again. Like Tiger, combining the long drive with the forty-foot putt has proven itself as a sound strategy, and he is committed to making good at this pro golf business. And, I’m sure that some brand name will keep him supplied with drivers as they fall apart on the range.