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Sacramento's Cameron Champ makes PGA Tour debut
The once six-year-old golf prodigy, Cameron Champ, is now a 22-year-old rising golfing star who just made his PGA Tour debut in Napa this week. (Oct. 6, 2017)
Lina Washington, KXTV 5:56 PM. PDT October 06, 2017
In 2001 ABC10 was known as News 10 and it introduced a six-year-old golf prodigy named Cameron Champ out at Champions Golf Links on Elk Grove Florin Road.
Sixteen years later, Champions is closed and has been replaced with a Walmart. You can still see the remnants of the nets from the driving range.
But that young blonde boy whose swing was compared to Tiger Woods has grown up to be one of the top amateur golfers in the world and made his PGA Tour debut in Napa this week.
His play from the summer and being a Sacramento native earned him an invitation to the Safeway Open.
"I think I'm at the point now where I've gained so much confidence from the summer of how I played playing in the Walker Cup USA Team and then getting the invite here so I'm just ready to tee it up and go play," said Champ.
Not many people recognized the name "Cameron Champ" at Silverado in Napa but the 22-year-old, who attended Heritage Peak Charter School, made a name for himself in June after making the 36-hole cut at The U.S. Open as an amateur.
"Very nervous. I had never played in front of that many people. It was a big golf course, I think one of the biggest in U.S. Open history which obviously fit me very well," he said.
Champ's strength is how far he can hit the ball and it's caught the attention of major champions.
"Yeah, I've played with Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, some very well-known names and my distance just wows them which is kind of funny because I don’t say much, I'm a quiet kid," he said.
While Cameron is humble about his gift, his grandfather, Mack, couldn't be more proud.
"He used to say, ‘grandpa you can't tell everybody how I play golf,’” Mack said. “And I would say ‘yes I can, I'm your grandpa, but you can't!"
The 76-year-old Vietnam veteran's home in North Highlands is filled with family photos and keepsakes. He's even kept the first set of golf clubs he bought Cameron as a kid.
"At such a young age, he was so focused on hitting the ball and chipping and putting and he would never get tired,” Mack said. “At five years old that's crazy, you know?"
Mack couldn't make it to Napa for the tournament this week, as he continues to recover from a kidney transplant, but he was at The Los Angeles Country Club when Cameron was representing the United States in its Walker Cup win.
It took a village to help Cameron progress as a young golfer. Mack and his late wife, Lulu, did all they could to help their grandson along the way.
"Me and my wife we wouldn't go on vacation from 1998 until she passed," Mack said as he fought back tears.
To see all the sacrificed he and Lulu made paying off for Cameron gives Mack an indescribable feeling.
"Our first challenge was just to get a college degree or just a scholarship for one which to achieve that was a huge blessing and to be where I am now." Cameron said.
Obviously, my freshman and sophomore year I got hurt,” Cameron explained. “Fractured my back, two bulged discs, that was kind of the breaking point for me. I wasn’t sure if I’d be the same, wasn’t sure if I’d be able to play like I used to. But I was able to heal up perfectly fine and grow.”
“Since my freshman year I’ve only maybe played a year and a half or two of full golf,” he continues. “And in that two-year span I’ve gone through my rankings going from 50 in the world to 600 to back inside the top 10 so it just kind of shows what hard work does. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off as you want in golf.”
Cameron is just a few credits away from graduating at Texas A&M. The university is in the same city, Bryan-College Station, where 50 years ago his grandfather was refused a hamburger even while wearing his Air Force uniform.
"They said 'we don't serve people like you,'" Mack recalled. "They didn't say that, they said another word but I'm not going to say that."
While Cameron's aspiration is to make it on PGA Tour his grandpa is dreaming bigger.
"One of the things I would hope before my time is up here is that he's good enough that he gets to play The Masters," an emotional Mack shared. "And I told him I wouldn't drive that Magnolia Drive, I would walk."
Mack remembers being brought to tears in 1975 when Lee Elder became the first black man to play at Augusta National after more than 40 years. In 1990 the club admitted its first black member and in 1997 Tiger Woods became the first black man to win The Masters.
While Mack has high hopes for his grandson's future, Cameron is focused on the present.
"Obviously this week I want to play well, I want to play my best. Top 10 top 25 whatever, it may be," Cameron said. "If I can compete at this level and if I can't then what I need to fix or what I need to change to compete at this level."
After the first round he was tied for 87th in the 144-player field after carding a +1 round of 73. For the first two rounds, he's been paired alongside another big hitter in John Daly.
Follow Lina Washington on Twitter: @LWashingtonTV
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