It’s fair if you turn your attention away from professional golf come football season. Heck, the PGA Tour knows that you do — that’s why the PGA Championship is now in May and the Playoffs finish in August. Quietly, the new 2020 PGA Tour season started a couple of weeks ago at The Greenbrier and year-in, year-out the fall early portion of the season ends up delivering a couple of solid events and great golf stories.
Today, we didn’t just get the highlight of the fall slate. We got one of the best sports stories of the year, period.
Cameron Champ, playing for his grandfather ailing with terminal stage IV cancer just 60 miles down the road in his Sacramento hometown, came into Sunday with control of the Safeway Open with a three-shot lead. And for most of the day Sunday, the golf was pedestrian with Champ well in front until late. A late stumble on the 17th from Champ and two birdies from Adam Hadwin set up a dramatic scene at the 18th, where the 24-year-old needed a birdie to win the event. A massive 370-yard drive and a just-short 8-iron left Champ with a straightforward up-and-down for a birdie and the championship.
I’ve never seen a player stroke the winning putt of a PGA Tour event with tears in his eyes. On that note, here come mine again.
The golf’s all secondary. This is one of the stories of the year. Here’s why.
Mack Champ, a black man and former caddie who wasn’t allowed to play the game as a kid, introduced Cam to the sport. Cam just found out he was in hospice care on Sunday.
If you’re a golf fan, you know Cam Champ. The 24-year-old was a can’t-miss phenom coming out of Texas A&M a couple of years ago, and tends to be one of the most compelling stories on the course any given week he tees it up. Sure, sure, Champ’s an elite athlete and the longest driver on the PGA Tour, but that’s not really the hook. In a sport with an embarrassing history of racism baked into every level, Champ is biracial and was taught the game by his black grandfather, Mack. When he won his first event at last year’s Sanderson Farms Championship, Champ became the first black American man not named Tiger Woods to win on the PGA Tour since Calvin Peete won in New Orleans in 1986. The Undefeated profiled Cam, Mack, and his family’s journey to the PGA Tour last year and it’s a fantastic read you should check out.
All that alone should make Cam Champ a fan favorite any time he’s playing. But this was the Safeway Open, the closest Champ gets to a home game on the PGA Tour, teeing it up just 60 miles from his Sacramento hometown.
Mack Champ, the man that taught Cam the game, was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer in July. Already struggling a bit through his rookie season after his win at the Sanderson, Cam’s family tried to insulate him from his grandfather’s deteriorating condition throughout the end of the PGA Tour season. When he arrived home for the tournament on Sunday, his father Jeff told Golf Channel that it was the first time Cam was given the full Fdetails of Mack’s deteriorating condition. Still processing the gravity of the news, Cam and his father Jeff admitted the tournament was a bit of a reprieve for the family.
While Mack Champ couldn’t make the 60-mile trip to see the win, he was there for the finish. The entire Champ family had spent the week staying at their family home where Mack is in hospice care in Sacramento. Just after the winning putt sank, Cam’s father Jeff ran onto the green for an emotional embrace and then handed Cam a cell phone. On the other end was Mack, his coach, his mentor, to greet him.
“No matter if I win one more tournament, ten more tournaments, whatever it may be. This will be the greatest moment in my golfing career,” the youngest Champ told Golf Channel live on TV after the round.
From a golf perspective, the win puts Champ in some rarified air. He joins guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on a list of players to win multiple PGA Tour events before the age of 25, and the win at the full-field Safeway means we’ll see Champ make his Masters debut next year. There’s no question he’s uber-talented, and his length off the tee might even make him a sexy sleeper pick to contend at Augusta next year as a rookie. He’s more than just a good story — he’s a guy that can contend for majors and national team bids for years to come. Golf couldn’t ask for a better guy to join the ranks of the stars.
But no matter what, there won’t ever be a day more special in his career than Sunday.