American Cameron Champ headlines a young brigade of power players primed to try to bring RACV Royal Pines to its knees.
It takes something out of the ordinary to catch Dale Lynch’s eye.
Since his days working with the likes of Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley at the Victorian Institute of Sport, Lynch has seen every type of swing at the elite level of golf while pacing the ranges of the game’s most coveted events. But Cameron Champ possesses a golf swing that is anything but ordinary.
“I haven’t seen anything that comes close to it,” Lynch told the PGA Golf Club podcast. “There are people who just know how to generate power. They just do it naturally. It’s like someone who jumps high or runs quick. There are people who can actually just generate more speed. They figure out a way to maximise the muscles they have in their body.”
Which is the essence of what makes Champ’s swing so unique.
There are players who appear to be swinging it harder, but no one consistently hits it longer than Cameron Champ. His longest drive on the PGA Tour in 2019 was a 409-yard bomb on the 12th hole during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua, tied for 18th for the longest drive on tour for the season. But his overall average driving distance clocks in at 317.9 yards (290.7 metres), more than four yards on average longer than the next best, Rory McIlroy.
However, the numbers tell only part of the story.
Grant Field, coach of two-time Australian PGA champion Cameron Smith, first got wind of Champ’s ridiculous length while the Californian was still an amateur.
“Louis Dobbelaar played with him in a big amateur event not long before he turned pro two years ago and he said it was ridiculous,” Field says of Champ’s length. “There were times when he was hitting it 80 past him. Louis said he was hitting it pretty good, yet he wasn’t even close.”
It was at the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in February when Field got to see for himself the kid touted as the “new power king of the PGA Tour”.
“Watching him on the range one morning, there was Dustin Johnson, Tiger, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth all on the range and Cameron Champ is just flying them over the back net. All I could think was, That’s impressive,” Field says.
“It was the effortlessness of how far he hit it that got me. The guys who hit it a long way, they tend to look like they’re hitting it hard. He doesn’t. That was the biggest thing that stuck out to me, how effortless it looked and how far it actually went. There are only a handful of guys who you watch and think, That’s different. He’s one of them. It’s scary to watch.”
‘It was the effortlessness of how far he hit it that got me. The guys who hit it a long way, they tend to look like they’re hitting it hard. He doesn’t’ – Grant Field
Making of a Champ
If the Cameron Champ swing – and what it produces – is in some ways difficult to explain, his genetic make-up hints at some preternatural advantages.
Champ’s father, Jeff Champ, was signed to the Baltimore Orioles Major League Baseball organisation for two years in the late 1980s but it was his grandfather, Mack, who would first put a golf club in Cameron’s hands at just two years of age.
When Champ won his first PGA Tour title, the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship, in just his second start as a PGA Tour member, Mack and Jeff were both greenside to congratulate him. When Champ won his second, the Safeway Open in September, Jeff put the phone to Cameron’s ears to talk to
his grandfather who was ailing in hospice care at home. He passed away less than a month later.
“He was the only golfer in my family,” Champ told the PGA Golf Club of his grandfather’s influence. “My dad played professional baseball, he played in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles. He was not a golfer but my grandpa was and I fell in love with the game with him. He was the one who taught me until I was five or six years old and it just kind of went from there.”
It was not long afterwards that Champ came to realise that he hit a golf ball in a manner that was different to those golfers around him.
“I definitely started to notice around 10, 11 years old and then 12 to 15 it really sparked,” Champ added. “I’ve been the same off the tee since I was probably 15 – I might have gained a little bit because I grew into my body and what-not. I would definitely say it started out when I was younger. When I was younger I had no idea where it was going. I would just hit it and go find it.”
Field and Lynch agree that it is the efficiency of the power that Champ generates that is most significant, even if some of the physics remain somewhat unexplainable.
“He’s just one of those guys like Rory who use their body and use the ground properly. Justin Thomas is another,” offers Field. “They just get the most out of what they do. They use the ground and their body effectively and that turns into effortless power. You could probably explain it if you broke it down but the reality is: why it’s there? Who knows? He’s obviously athletically gifted, but it’s quite incredible to watch. It doesn’t look like he’s doing a lot for that amount of power.
“The crowds will love watching him because he’ll definitely hit a few drivers around there. You’ll see what it’s all about.”
When Graham Marsh unveiled the completed Royal Pines revamp in 2015, much of his mandate centred on making the course more able to withstand the distances that modern players hit the ball. Bunkers were repositioned and hazards made more relevant, yet less than five years later a new breed of long bombers will challenge Marsh’s vision.
The par-4 eighth that was designed to tempt players to take driver might require only a 3-wood, while the water carry that has proven a bridge too far for some players at the par-4 13th will not even enter the field of vision for the likes of Champ. Eagles will be on offer at the par-5 3rd and 15th holes and it won’t only be Champ effectively playing a shortened golf course.
West Australian 21-year-old Min Woo Lee was the only player on the European Tour to boast a driving distance average in excess of 320 yards while PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit contender Ryan Fox was second with an average of 316.8 yards (289.7 metres).
Add Aussie young guns such as Cameron Davis and Zach Murray, who average 309 yards and 306 yards on their respective tours in 2019, and it’s clear that Royal Pines will be exposed to an aerial assault unlike anything it has seen before.