Champ playing like his name

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

As quarterfinal matches go, Friday’s Western Amateur showdown between Cameron Champ and Joaquin Niemann at Skokie Country Club was about as good as it gets.

Both players were in this year’s U.S. Open, with Champ finishing in a tie for 32nd.

Niemann, an 18-year-old Chilean heading into his freshman year at South Florida, is the world’s top-ranked amateur. Champ, who will be a senior at Texas A&M, could be a pro by this time next year.

Given that U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller watched the competition closely, the showdown could have been for a berth on this year’s team, along with a spot in Saturday’s semifinal. It could be argued that both deserve a spot.

Miller had to be impressed with both players, but especially Champ, who showed a delicate touch chipping and uncanny accuracy putting to go with his prodigious drives.

The bomber from Sacramento dispatched the rail-thin Chilean, 3 and 2, with a mixture of all of the above, earning the right to play Doc Redman on Saturday at 8:15 a.m.

“I just grinded it out,” Champ said. “I wasn’t driving it well. Kind of squirrely.”

Champ is a tough judge. For example, take his drive on the 557-yard par-5 11th, which zigs left, then right. To mortals, this is a three-shot hole. To Champ, it’s a 381-yard belt straight over a copse of trees behind bunkers guarding the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. From there, with 176 yards to go, Champ smacked a 9-iron onto the left side of the green.

That play displayed not only his brute strength, but his smarts. Niemann, who is also silly long, hit it about 330 off the tee and poked a hybrid into the bunker guarding the right side of the green, and the hole.

Champ, saying he is “a little more aggressive” in match play compared to stroke play, aimed away from the hazard with his second, since Niemann had already found the bunker. It paid off with 40-foot two-putt birdie to Niemann’s par save, and a 3-up lead. One-up at the turn, Champ had also birdied the par-4 10th.

Niemann cut the gap to 1-down with Champ’s double-bogey of the watery 12th and his own birdie of the 13th, but could get no closer. Champ won the 13th with a birdie, hey halved the par-4 15th with birdies, Champ doing so with a flop wedge from the gunch after a 330-yard drive. Champ closed his foe out with a two-putt par on the par-3 16th.

“The 15th hole was the best hole I played all day, hitting the flop shot to 15-18 feet,” Champ said. “That was the key to the match.”

He sank his birdie putt after Niemann had rolled in a 20-footer on the same line.

For the match, Champ was 3-under, Niemann even par, with the usual concessions.

Redman came from 1-down to beat Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, 3 and 2.

Derek Bard, the 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up, will play medalist Norman Xiong in the opening semifinal at 8 a.m.. Bard scored a 2 and 1 victory over Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand in a match with only five halved holes to move on, while Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif., was forced to the 18th hole by Brendon Jelley before his matching bogey was good enough for a 1-up victory. Xiong’s birdie on the par-4 17th was the difference.

Tim Cronin

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