Making the best of adversity

By RICK CLEVELAND,

“Driving’s for show, putting’s for dough.”

It’s a saying that’s been around as long as I’ve played golf, which is to say back when woods were really wooden and Titleists were wound with rubber bands under a soft balata cover.

I probably first heard it on a day when I three-putted the 18th hole and lost 50 cents, which was my lunch money and all I had in my pocket.

Never did the truth of that golf adage ring more true than on last Sunday’s final round of the 51st Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson. The day began as if it would be the coronation of the PGA Tour’s next long-driving superstar.

Cameron Champ, a 23-year-old rookie, led the tournament by four strokes entering the final round, the same week he adorned the cover of Golf Digest, which correctly proclaimed him the longest driver on all of golf’s professional tours. Champ was as advertised. His average drive at CCJ was 343 yards. He turned the stretched-out 7,426-yard layout into something resembling a pitch and putt course.

It was a common sight all week. Champ and his two playing partners would all hit their drives and start walking down the fairways toward their golf balls. The other two guys would stop after about 280 yards or so. But Champ would keep walking and walking, sometimes as far as 100 yards past his partners. If they wanted to ask him a question, they needed their cell phones.

And those prodigious drives helped him shoot rounds of 65, 70 and 64 to take that four-shot lead. They also helped Mississippi’s only PGA Tour tournament draw the biggest crowds in the event’s history. Word gets around. Everybody loves to watch a guy hit the long ball, whether it’s Babe Ruth or Dustin Johnson.

 

So the stage was set Sunday for Champ to have the galleries oohing and ahhing at his drives, while he strolled to what would surely be the first of many PGA Tour victories. And then a not so funny thing happened on the practice range before the final round.

Champ warmed up with all his other clubs and then took out his trusted Ping driver. He took a rip, which is to say he swung that driver in excess of 130 miles per hour. “THWACK!!!!”

His clubhead cracked in half.

Golf’s new Sir Lancelot had lost his sword.

Not to worry, Champ had another driver in the trunk of his car. Turns out, he couldn’t hit that one as straight as he had been hitting the cracked one.

His driver – the club that is making him famous – betrayed him. He hit it everywhere except the fairway. He was still hitting it 350 yards or so, but he was hitting it 50 to 60 yards off line. By the 13th hole, his four-shot lead had evaporated.

 

This was his moment of truth.

His shortest club would have to save him. There were six holes still to play.

So here’s what happened. He made a 10-foot putt for birdie on 13. He made a seven-foot putt for birdie on 14. He made a 5-footer for birdie on 15. He made a 38-footer for birdie on 16. On 17, after driving into the right rough, he needed a 15-footer for par. He drained it. On 18, he finished with a 7-footer for birdie.

On those last six holes, he needed only six putts, totaling 92 feet in length.

All week, his driving had been the show. On Sunday, his putting was for dough – $792,000, in fact, which is a fairly nice payday for a 23-year-old fresh out of Texas A&M.

Cameron Champ, golf’s next big deal, won’t be worrying about his lunch money anytime soon.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@mississippitoday.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.

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