Winner: Cameron Champ
Golfers play with aching joints, sore backs, blisters. But how do you play with a heavy heart? Read putts with misty eyes? “With everything going on with my family, with my grandpa, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to play,” Cameron Champ was saying, at the Safeway Open at Silverado. “I showed up Thursday and teed it up with no practice round, nothing. The whole week, there was nothing else on my mind.”
His grandfather, Mack, battling cancer, was in a hospice not far from Silverado. The family was commuting to the Safeway from his hometown, Sacramento, some 65 miles away. Champ took the lead in the third round and nursed it like a dying ember to a desperate birdie on the final hole for his second tour victory. He shot 67-68-67-69 for a 17-under 271, ending it with a chip-and-putt birdie at the last.
Champ, a big-hitter, started cold, but quickly made a game plan. “The par-fives are key,” he said. “I feel like I have to birdie those with my length.” He birdied all four in the first round, two-putting No. 5 from 80 feet, No. 9 from 15, the 16th from 16 and the 18th from 44. “Hit it extremely well, gave myself a lot of chances,” Champ said. He birdied three of the four in the second round, shot 68 and was three behind Bryson DeChambeau, who rode a flawless 64 to a two-shot lead.
Champ rocketed into the lead in the third round, from three behind to three ahead, and did it without the par-fives. Strong iron play and solid putting gave him a bogey-free 67. His five birdies, all at par-fours, came on putts ranging from six feet to 16. Still, it was another heavy day. “It’s still tough trying to keep my mind off…,” Champ said. “He’s always worrying about everyone else but himself.” A win for his grandpa? “Oh, it would be huge,” he said. “It would be mind-blowing.”
Champ pieced his fourth round together. On the front nine, he missed every fairway — one cost him a bogey that would haunt him — but hit key second shots and birdied the first, fifth, sixth and ninth. The birdie at the par-five No. 5 was especially pleasing — a tee shot wide into the left rough, a pitch over a tall tree to the green and two putts from 17 feet. Champ had played the back nine under par for three rounds, but now he had to work for pars, and bogeyed the 17th. Adam Hadwin, in the group ahead, had birdied the last three holes and was in at 16 under. Champ had to birdie the par-five 18th to win, and he had birdied it only once before.
This time, with grandpa still watching on TV, Champ ripped a 369-yard drive, left his second short, chipped to three feet and birdied for a 69 and a 17-under 271, and won by one. Champ hugged his dad at the green, and cried. “The greatest moment ever in my career,” he said.