HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The way Cameron Champ was playing, the only thing that could stop him was a thunderstorm.
That’s what happened Thursday on the final day of the 114th Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship. Severe weather with lightning and thunderstorms washed out the final round. Champ, a 22-year-old Texas A&M senior, won the championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club with a 54-hole score of 9-under-par 201. The Sacramento, Calif., native won by four shots over Stoney Crouch from Mount Juliet, Tenn., and Collin Morikawa from La Cañada Flintridge, Calif.
(For complete scores, click here.)
After completion of the third round Thursday morning, play during the final round was suspended at 3:56 p.m. for a dangerous situation. Lightning and thunderstorms were barreling down on Prairie Dunes. Champ, who led the prestigious championship by one shot after 36 holes, stretched his lead to four on Thursday with five birdies and an eagle on his way to a 4-under 66 in the third round. Before play was suspended, his game was on cruise control. He had birdied four of his first six holes in the now-negated fourth round.
After a standout season for the Aggies that saw him notch one victory and five top-5s, Champ qualified for the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Despite Champ’s collegiate success, his father Jeff Champ said his son didn’t have the same level of confidence then as he displayed this week at Prairie Dunes.
“He’s a humble kid,” Jeff Champ said. “He didn’t quite believe in himself the way I do.”
That changed during the course of one mid-June afternoon. In preparation for the U.S. Open, Champ scored a practice round with two of the top international professionals in the world. Both Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen were friendly and kind to Champ during the round. But it wasn’t anything they said or did that changed Champ. It was what he did that altered Champ’s attitude about himself.
“After that round, Cameron saw that he can hit all the same shots they can,” Jeff Champ said. “And he was outdriving them by a bit. Everything changed after that.”
Since that practice round, Champ has finished T32 in the U.S. Open, was the medalist at the 117th North and South Amateur at Pinehurst and is firmly in consideration for the Walker Cup.
And now he’s a Trans-Miss Amateur champion, joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus (1958, ’59), Ben Crenshaw (1972), Deane Beaman (1960), Bryson DeChambeau (2013) and Charlie Coe (1947, ’49, ’52, ’56)
“Starting the summer, I got some confidence built with making the U.S. Open and playing well there,” said Champ, who has worked with noted swing instructor Sean Foley since 2010 and owns a staggering 198 mph ball speed average. “This week, I didn’t make many mistakes. Today I just had it going. The confidence from the U.S. Open is gradually moving into other parts of my game. It came out this week at the right time.”
With 15 birdies and an eagle in 54 holes, the self-assured Champ blitzed the Perry Maxwell-designed links-style course in America’s heartland. The Third-Team All-American selection took control of the tournament with a second round 65. He made six birdies against a lone bogey in 20-25 mph winds in sweltering, nearly 100-degree heat.
When the winds relented during Thursday’s third round, Champ was even more aggressive. He attacked the fescue-framed fairways with drives in excess of 320 yards and rode a hot putter to the title.
“That practice round (at Erin Hills) showed me what I’m capable of,” he said. “Players like me, we’ve looked up to them for years. To see how they hit the ball and how they go about things, I guess it proves that players of my caliber – and the players here at this event – we can hit those shots. Obviously they have way more experience. They’ve been there for years and have won majors. That just boosted my confidence to see what I can do and what I have to improve on to get better.”
Among those impressed with Champ’s performance was Crouch, the runner-up along with 2015 Trans-Miss Amateur champion Morikawa at 5-under 205.
“I don’t hit it long, but I don’t hit it short, either,” said Crouch, a recent graduate from Lipscomb University. “He was outdriving me by 50-, 60-yards. It was kind of demoralizing. When he has his wedges dialed in and he’s putting well, he’s going to play a lot of good golf in the future.”
Crouch posted three rounds in the 60s and held a share of the lead after an opening round 67. He said slowing his swing down in the strong winds that confounded and challenged the field in the first two rounds helped him score.
“Slowing down and not being in a rush was the biggest thing for me,” he said. “I played well this week, but you just have to shake Cameron’s hand and say, ‘Well done, man.’”
Morikawa played his way into contention in the second and third rounds with scores of 68-67 after his even-par 70 to start the championship. The Cal-Berkeley junior won the 112th edition of the Trans-Miss Amateur at nearby Flint Hills National. His performance that year was much like Champ’s this week. Morikawa won in 2015 by seven shots.
Chandler Phillips from Huntsville, Texas, finished in fourth place at 6-under 206. He’s not only Champ’s college teammate at Texas A&M; they’re roommates. Phillips blistered Prairie Dunes on Thursday morning a bogey-free 64 to move up the leader board.
“It could’ve been better,” he said. “I missed two 5-footers and lipped out two others.”
Tyler Strafaci from Davie, Fla., and Franklin Huang from Poway, Calif., shared fifth place at 2-under 208.
LOW MID-AM: Stewart Hagestad from Newport Beach, Calif., was the championship’s Low Mid-Amateur. With rounds of 74-70-67, he finished at 1-over 211 and tied for 10th place overall.
Playing in his first Trans-Miss Amateur, Hagestad is the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champ. He also finished as the Low Amateur at the 2017 Masters. Out of a total of 15 mid-amateurs in the starting field, Draegon Majors from Tulsa, Okla., was only other mid-am to survive the 36-hole.
Majors finished tied for 14th place with rounds of 76-71-65.
WALKER CUP HOPEFULS: Of the players with Walker Cup aspirations, Champ obviously did the most for himself this week at Prairie Dunes. Like several players, he’ll travel up to Chambers Bay next week for the Pacific Coast Amateur. When U.S. Walker Cup Captain John “Spider” Miller and the Walker Cup selection committee make their selections for the 10-man team after the U.S. Amateur in August, Champ hopes to play for his country Sept 9-10 against Great Britain & Ireland at Los Angeles Country Club.
Hagestad and Morikawa also are strong Walker Cup contenders. Hagestad’s T10 and Morikawa’s runner-up performance will bolster their resumes. Two-time Trans-Miss Amateur champion Will Zalatoris from Plano, Texas, made a statement for his Walker Cup at Prairie Dunes, as well. The Wake Forest senior shot a 2-under 68 in the third round that propelled him to a tie for 10th place at 1-over 211.
Texas senior Doug Ghim from Arlington Heights, Ill., finished T14 at 2-over 212. Scottie Scheffler, the recent Low Amateur at Erin Hills, never got his game going this week. After finishing second at the Big 12 Championships earlier this spring at Prairie Dunes, Scheffler finished T23. He’s also in the field at the Pac Coast Amateur and U.S. Amateur.
FINAL PD NUMBERS: When all was said and done, the par-70 Prairie Dunes played to a stroke average of 73.94. The 477-yard, par-4 fifth hole was the most difficult hole all week. It played more than a half-stroke over par at 4.62. Eighteen of the week’s 20 total eagles came on the 512-yard, par-5 seventh hole, which plays downwind.
STAYING POWER: There have only been three head professionals in Prairie Dune’s illustrious 81-year history. They are:
• Russ Wilson, 1936-1971
• Charles Craig, 1971-2002
• John Lanham, 2002-present
NICKLAUS-PALMER CHALLENGE: In the summer of 1962, Prairie Dunes invited Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to play an exhibition match in front of the membership. As the story goes, the members passed the hat and pooled $10,000 to offer as a challenge to them.
All they had to do was shoot even-par for 18 holes. Easy enough for the two greatest golfers of that era, right?
Not so fast.
Nicklaus was 1-under through eight holes with the par-4 ninth jumped up and bit him. He pulled his drive into the left heather grass and needed several swipes to recover. He took a quadruple-bogey 8 and finished a 77.
Palmer, meanwhile, stood on the 18th tee at even-par. A birdie on the closing hole meant he’d take home the money. With the wind at his back and in quintessential Palmer style, he tried to drive the green. His ball ended up tangled in tall grass right of the fairway. He took four shots from there reach the green and one-putted for his 6.
As the scorecard of the match in the Prairie Dunes clubhouse’s Grille Room shows, the golf course won again.
THANK YOU: The Trans-Miss Golf Association extends its most sincere gratitude to Prairie Dunes Country Club, its members, staff, all of the volunteers and the Trans-Miss Directors who gave their time and energy to make the 114th Trans-Miss Amateur a great success. Extra special thanks go out to Head Professional John Lanham, General Manager Scott Nelson, Superintendent Jim Campbell, Assistant Superintendents Corey Griess, Cory Neufeld and Ryan Osner, Food & Beveridge Director Sean Barker and Prairie Dunes members Bob Peel and Rusty Hilst for all of their support and assistance.
About the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association
The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf organizations in the United States. Established in 1901, the Trans-Mississippi is composed of over 200 member clubs located throughout the country. The Association is governed by a board of independent directors and is headquartered in Dallas, TX.
13760 Noel Road, Suite #327
Dallas, TX 75240