Cameron Champ eyes slump-busting John Deere win as personal growth continues

Cameron Champ is not the same kid who burst – literally – onto the PGA Tour scene a few years ago with his eye-popping drives and other-worldly ball speed numbers.

Now 26, Champ has matured into much more.

He’s got his own foundation, which strives to transform the lives of youth from underserved and underrepresented communities through a focus on athletics, academics and healthy living.

He’s married, tying the knot with Jessica Birdsong late last year.

And he’s developed a voice and platform as one of the few Tour pros to regularly speak on injustices, both social and racial.

“Obviously, one of our purposes is to win golf tournaments, to be the best we possibly can, but for me, coming to the realization of a lot of things, I have many other purposes I want to achieve,” Champ said Saturday afternoon at the John Deere Classic. “For me, it’s not all about golf. Obviously, as a kid and coming out here trying to get on Tour it had to be because that was my situation, and I had no other choice. But now that I’m out here and I got married, I’m maturing in levels, I’m starting to kind of figure out myself and what works for me.

“Obviously, I’m going to put 100-percent effort into this game; I love it, it’s given me so much. But also, I have my family, I have other things that mean more to me than this game.”

The only problem for Champ has been finding a balance between his golf game and that growing list of passions and responsibilities. The two-time Tour winner entered this week at TPC Deere Run in the midst of a lengthy slump. He’s No. 123 in the world rankings, having not posted a top-25 all year and approaching nine months since his last top-10 (2020 Zozo Championship).

His last five finishes look like this: MC, MC, WD, MC, MC.

Mental health taking center stage in golf

On the heels of increased mental-health awareness in golf, spurred by Matthew Wolff and Bubba Watson addressing their own struggles a few weeks ago at the U.S. Open, Champ admitted he’s not immune, either, as he tries to figure out how to successfully manage his increased responsibilities in a way that doesn’t negatively affect his golf.

“It’s been hard, not been easy,” Champ said. “It’s not so much my game, it’s more me and my personal growth, I think. Because I’ll go home and I’ll play perfectly fine, so I know it’s not [my game]. It’s more in-depth, and what a lot of guys are starting to talk about now, your personal health. Everybody reacts differently to things, certain things affect certain people differently, and for me, I had to figure it out, I had to learn it. … I think I’m finally starting to grasp it some and come out the other way.”

Champ said he’s leaned on those close to him to be more “free-minded” on the golf course. Sure, it’s easy to do when he’s scoring well, but he’s still working on enjoying himself when the ball isn’t going in the hole as easily.

John Deere Classic: Full-field scores | Full coverage

This week it’s been easier; Champ is 14 under through 54 holes and enters Sunday just two shots off of Sebastian Munoz’s lead. There’s an Open Championship berth on the line, too, if Champ can best all players not yet qualified for Royal St. George’s while finishing among the top five and ties. (Munoz and Chez Reavie are the only players in the top 10 already in The Open; Kevin Na withdrew from next week’s major a few days ago.)

“That was my goal,” Champ said of getting into The Open, “but again, that’s not what I’m thinking about.”

As cliché as it may sound, Champ’s main focus right now is having fun. Much like he does when he’s working with youth at Foothill Golf Course near his hometown of Sacramento, or presenting trophies to the winners of the Mack Champ Invitational, the junior event named after his late grandfather.

“I haven’t been enjoying [golf], I haven’t been having fun, I’ve been brutal on myself,” Champ said, “and I got to a point where I had to say, ‘OK, I got to stop, this has to change, I can’t be doing this anymore.’

“So, I’ve kind of done a flip-flop, a 180, and no matter how I play, this is who I am on and off the course and this is especially how I am off the course.”

As Champ says, as long as he puts in the work, the results will come – in all aspects of his life.

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