Emotional Champ Wins Safeway Open For His Dying Grandfather
THERE wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Cameron Champ completed his second PGA Tour victory at the Safeway Open. His grandfather, Mack, watched the win unfold from a hospice, knowing that he probably only has days to live. And it was particularly emotional for Champ because it was the 78-year-old who taught him how to play golf in the open fields by the railroad tracks near their home outside Houston.
Mack watched on TV from a hospice in Sacramento, and after holing the winning putt Champ sobbed on the shoulder of his caddie, Kurt Kowaluk, as they embraced. “I think it was just kind of meant to be,” Cameron said. “No matter what, even if I never win another tournament again or I win however many, this will definitely be the greatest moment of my golfing career.”
His father, Jeff, also with tears in his eyes, said: “For this to happen before these last days that we’re going to have with my father here, it’s the man upstairs. It’s amazing.”
Champ wasn’t sure that he was even going to play in the tournament but it turned out to be a fitting tribute to his grandfather. The details of his victory seem unimportant, but he sealed the deal in some style, smashing a 370-yard down the final fairway to set up a birdie. It gave him a final round of 69, took him to 17 under par and secured a one-shot win ahead of Adam Hadwin, who finished with a 67. Marc Leishman (65) finished third, three back.
It was Champ’s second PGA Tour win, and it moves to second in the FedExCup, and earns a spot in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and, for the first time, The Masters. But none of that really seems to matter right now.
Mack bought the boy his first set of plastic golf clubs and soon realised his grandson had some talent. “First time I knew he had pretty good coordination,” Mack said earlier this year, “I don’t think he was two years old. I told him, I want you to take this long tee, you stay over here, and I’m going to go over and I want to see if you can hit it over the top of the house.
“It took him about four or five hits,” he said, “but he said, ‘Grandpa! I hit it over the top of the house!’ I said, ‘I know! I’m over here, Cameron!’ And from that day on, when he came in, I’d have little putting dishes in the hallway. We just made games. Chipping over bushes. Chipping into coffee cans. I never thought it would lead to this, back then, but I saw something in how he would just swing the club.”
An emotional Champ recalled those early days after his victory at the Safeway. “We just hit them back and forth, whiffle balls, to each other. I think it just started from that. My grandfather is he most loving man I know.” It was toward the end of last season when Jeff told Cameron that Mack had cancer. “One day he called me and said, ‘I’m ready,’” Jeff said.
With his grandfather in the hospice, Champ missed the pro-am and didn’t play a practice round as the family shuttled back and forth between Sacramento and Napa. Somehow, though, he played superbly at Silverado, where he wrote “POPS” on his shoes and golf balls and led the field in driving distance.
“For him to be able to see me make that putt on 18 on the 72nd hole to win,” Champ said, “like I said, that will go down as the greatest moment ever in my golfing career.” Champ then looked into the TV camera and said it all: “This one’s for you, Pops.”
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