Cameron Champ was a junior at Heritage Peak Charter School in Sacramento when he was selected to play in the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee in 2012.
Playing with Champ, a member of First Tee — Greater Sacramento, in the PGA Tour Champions event on the Monterey Peninsula that week was Glenn Weckerlin.
It was a week Weckerlin, who is with Chevron, will never forget.
“I think it’s interesting. Rarely do you meet somebody that’s the same person 10 years later, and in a good way,” Weckerlin said on the driving range Monday at Silverado Resort and Spa, the host of this week’s Fortinet Championship.
“I think he’s just as humble as he was back when he was a junior in high school. He works just as hard. He’s dedicated and really focused on also giving back.”
Champ is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, with one of those victories coming in 2019 at what was then the Safeway Open at Silverado. He won the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities, in Blaine, Minnesota in July, as he fired a closing-round 66 and captured the title by a two-stroke margin over Louis Oosthuizen, Jhonattan Vegas and Charl Schwartzel. Champ’s third PGA Tour victory came in his 76th start.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, keep working on the stuff we’ve been working on, no matter if I have a bad week, a bad day, a bad practice session — just keep getting better at what I’m good at,” Champ said Monday. “At the end of the day, the results will take care of themselves. You can’t force things out here. When you start forcing things, you get really sideways, and now you start tinkering and you start trying other things to see if it will work. That’s just a total downhill effect.
“The last few months, I’ve been really good. I’ve been kind of staying steady and maturing more as I go. We’re just going to keep the course, no matter the outcome. The work will end up paying itself off.”
Champ is in the field for this week’s Fortinet Championship, the season-opening event on the PGA Tour’s 2021-22 schedule that will be held on the par-72, 7,123-yard North Course at Silverado starting Thursday. It’s a clean slate, a chance to hit the reset button on a new season of golf, with every PGA Tour member starting out at zero in the race for the Tour’s FedExCup title.
“I just think my maturity level is different than last year — the way I look at things, the way I approach things, deal with certain situations,” said Champ, a Sacramento native.
The Fortinet Championship, which continues through Sunday, features a field of 156 players and kicks off the 2021-22 FedExCup regular-season schedule. The schedule has 48 official events, including three 2022 FedExCup Playoff events.
The Fortinet Championship is an official FedExCup event. The winner will receive $1.26 million and 500 FedExCup points. Golf Channel will televise all four rounds.
It was a big day on Monday for Champ. The week started off with the Cameron Champ Foundation Pro-Am, a kickoff event for the PGA Tour’s charitable season. The foundation, based in Citrus Heights, is partnering with the Fortinet Championship to help underserved and underrepresented children in the Bay Area and Northern California. Fortinet, a global leader in broad, integrated and automated cybersecurity solutions, is a first-year title sponsor.
The Cameron Champ Foundation Pro-Am was played on the North Course. The fourth annual Cameron Champ Foundation Golf Classic was held on the South Course.
“It’s amazing for Fortinet to partner with us on Tour. It’s huge,” said Champ. “It just kind of elevates what we want to do and it brings a lot more support to our foundation with the event.”
The foundation owns Foothill Farms, a nine-hole course in Sacramento, and is “focused on accessible STEM education and golf development programming that fosters an environment for academic achievement and healthy living for children/youth from under-served communities,” according to pgatour.com.
The foundation is working to improve the course and facility, with plans to add classroom space and an instructional area, where youths can receive help from mentors.
“He’s a hard-working kid that understands what the importance of giving back is,” said Weckerlin, Chairman of the Cameron Champ Foundation Executive Board. “It’s also personal for him. He didn’t have a lot growing up, so everything that we’re doing right now is really coming from his perspective of, ‘How can I help others?'”
Weckerlin said the two events Monday were expected to raise over $250,000.
“This is kind of a dream come true for us,” said Weckerlin. “With the good fortune of the Fortinet people giving us the opportunity here to have a Monday pro-am and make it an official part of the tournament, it’s going to increase our visibility. The extra visibility, hopefully, will generate more funds and amplify our messaging.”
Champ put on a clinic and took questions from those at the driving range prior to the pro-am.
“This is the first week of the new Tour season. We are really happy to have the opening day of the first week of the new season. We look at this as the opening day of the charity season. And you know, golf gives so much back in general,” said Weckerlin. “We just think it’s fortunate that we’re opening day of the charity season, in addition to the opening day of the PGA Tour season. The money will go right back into the community. Fortinet has the same objectives as we do, to give back to the community.”
According to cameronchampfoundation.org, the mission of the Cameron Champ Foundation is “to transform the lives of youth from underserved and underrepresented communities through a focus on athletics, academics and healthy living.”
The foundation, according to the website, “strives to nurture valuable life lessons and prepare our students for future success by immersing them in golf, baseball, STEM education and service learning, and by teaching them the importance of nutrition and exercise.”
Champ played in 26 events last season. He had two top-10 and five top-25 finishes and 14 made cuts. He finished tied for eighth at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. He tied for 11th at the John Deere Classic.
“It’s special for us to have Cameron Champ, who’s kind of a hometown kid from the Northern California area,” said Cody Sherrill, Silverado’s Director of Golf Operations. “It’s just special that he won here two years ago, and now we’re able to have his event be a part of this week. It’s just all come together really well for all parties. We’re grateful for that.”
Champ is now making his home in Houston. But being back in Napa, at Silverado where he has won, gives it the feel of a home game for him. It was called the Safeway Open when he won it in 2019, as his birdie on the 18th hole capped off a 3-under-par 69 in the final round on the North Course. Champ’s 17-under 271 total for the week gave him a one-shot win.
“You’re just used to the course set-up, the grass, just everything, just the whole environment,” he said. “I’m super comfortable. I feel like I’m back home. I’ve played a lot of golf down here. Obviously, this event has a lot of sentimental value to me. So again, it’s just a really a stress-free week.
“I just enjoy being here, having my family around and then going to dinners at night with them. It’s just a very relaxing, fun and enjoyable week for me.
“It definitely feels for me that this is my home event, even though I’m based in Houston now. It’s kind of my second home event.”
* Players start from the Nos. 1 and 10 tees both Thursday and Friday, with groupings and starting times from 7 a.m. to 2:22 p.m. each day.
* Each of the last two champions at Silverado, Cameron Champ and Stewart Cink, have gone on to qualify for the Tour Championship. Champ was 27th in the 2019-20 standings. Cink finished 26th last season.
* Twenty-five rookies are in the field this week.
* Jon Rahm, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is in the field this week. He finished No. 2 in the FedEx Cup Standings last season. Rahm starts from the No. 10 tee Thursday at 7:44 a.m. and starts Friday from No. 1 at 12:54 p.m.
* The grouping of Cameron Champ, Phil Mickelson and Kevin Tway start from No. 10 Thursday at 7:55 a.m. and from No. 1 on Friday at 1:05 p.m.
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