Cameron Champ is ordinarily cool, reserved and polite. But in the summer of 2020, he was outraged.
In March of that year, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black medical worker, was shot and killed by white, plainclothes Louisville police officers in a bungled raid on her apartment. Five months later, a white Kenosha, Wis., police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times while responding to a domestic incident as Blake opened the driver’s door to an SUV. Three of Blake’s sons were in the backseat at the time. Blake survived the shooting but was left paralyzed from the waist down.
No criminal charges were filed against any of the officers involved in either of the two incidents.
“If you’re in a middle-class neighborhood and you’re a white person, that would never happen,” Champ said in an interview this week with Golf Digest. “That is just so inhumane. To be shot that many times from a foot away with your kids in the backseat, it’s just frustrating for all of us. It’s the perception of the Black man that’s been created for the last 50 years, or more, that makes everyone timid, or whatever. Those incidents were the tipping point for me.
“I mean, no one [in golf] was talking about it, and I’m just like, This is kind of ridiculous, I need to say something, at least get the ball rolling. If my grandfather was still alive, he would tell me the same thing, you need to stand up for what you believe in and for what your family is going through.”
Which is why Champ, a Black man in a predominantly white sport—the 25-year-old is one of just four Black players with status on the PGA Tour—will feature a different Black-owned small business on his golf bag each week throughout February, beginning with this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It’s not just a nod to and reminder of Black History Month but an effort to help companies that have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only has leveled many small businesses but has also disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities across the country. So this week at TPC Scottsdale, Champ’s bag will eschew its usual logos of sponsors SAP and SRS Distribution and instead feature the logo of owner Chris Cannon’s Prostyle Barber Shop in Sacramento, Calif., where Champ grew up and pictures of his younger self adorn the store’s walls.
For each tournament that he averages better than his season-long 318-yard driving distance average, SAP and Champ’s foundation will make a $10,000 donation to that week’s featured business. Other businesses that will appear on Champ’s bag in ensuing weeks include Paul Megu-Lecugy’s Reve Bistro in Lafayette, Calif., Angela Means’ Jackfruit Cafe in Los Angeles and Greg Gatlin’s BBQ joint in Houston.
“I just want to do something a little different since we’re still dealing with all these issues and smaller business owners are taking a pretty big hit,” Champ said. “I thought that was just a way to try to give back a little bit just to help them out some.”
It’s also not the first time Champ has taken a stand on social matters.
Following the shooting of Blake and with racial tensions boiling over, Champ, whose father is Black and mother white and whose grandfather Mack, who taught Cameron the game, was also Black, wore one black shoe and one white shoe during the BMW Championship last August. Blake’s name, along with the letters “BLM” for Black Lives Matter, were scrawled across the white shoe on his right foot.
Champ also wore one black shoe and one white shoe during the 2019 WMPO, again as a tribute to Black History Month. Being vocal about his opinions on matters concerning race, however, didn’t always come so easily for the two-time tour winner.
“I was always hesitant to do stuff because I’m still young, I’m in the early stages in my career and I thought I would get negativity from it,” Champ said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. There’s only about 20 people in this world whose opinions really matter to me. So at the end of the day, if it’s true, hard facts about what’s actually going on, for me I just felt like it was time to really speak the truth and speak my mind.
“No one’s really spoken that much on the tour, which is really not a surprise or unexpected because there’s not many minorities on the tour to begin with. Everything that happened in the summer and the way things were going, I just thought it was the right time. It was definitely uncomfortable, just because, you know, I’m kind of the guinea pig, but I knew what I was getting myself into, and I was accepting of that.”
For its part, the tour issued its own statement supporting Black Lives Matter protests that swept the U.S. in the aftermath of the Blake shooting. It has also committed to other endeavors, such as partnering with the Advocates Pro Golf Association, a developmental circuit created in 2010 to prepare Black and other minority golfers to compete and gain better access within the golf industry. Kamaiu Johnson, who won last year’s APGA Tour Championship, was granted an exemption into this year’s Farmers Insurance Open. Though he was forced to withdraw after having contracted coronavirus, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Honda Classic each extended Johnson an exemption as well.
Augusta National Golf Club, meanwhile, also announced last November at the Masters that it would fund the creation of a golf program at Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, Ga., while also awarding two scholarships in the name of Lee Elder, who will also serve as an honorary starter at this year’s tournament. And also last November, Champ’s foundation and Chevron announced that it would donate $40,000 to fund two golf scholarships to another HBCU, Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, with the scholarships named after Champ’s late grandfather, Mack.
Still, in Champ’s eyes, golf has a long way to go. He’s not wrong.
Of the nearly 600 players on the LPGA and Symetra Tours, 55 percent of them are white and 31 percent Asian, while just 2 percent are Black. But it starts even earlier than that. The First Tee, which has programs at 1,200 chapters around the country, has a participation rate of just 14 percent among Blacks, compared to 52 percent for whites.
Why such an imbalance? The reasons are myriad, from the Caucasian-only clause that existed in the PGA of America from 1934 to 1961, to lack of opportunities at a grassroots level, to the often exorbitant costs associated with golf.
“I think it’s just the way the system has been built just over the years,” Champ said. “People would be shocked how difficult it is, and my dad knows everybody in Sacramento. You have to knock down three doors just to get to the first one.
“It’s difficult for a white man to walk into a minority community and try to convince them to play golf. It’ll take a program to where kids get introduced to get them interested in it. That’s what we’re trying to do with our foundation. We’re not pushing them to play, but it’s just getting them in the door, getting them educational support, the financial support and if they play golf, it’d be amazing. If not, at least they get the mentorship, someone being there for them, helping them. But it’s definitely frustrating. We’ve had situations where you try to help kids, but it’s just like I said, it’s the way the system is. It’s almost impossible once they get to a certain point.”
Which is why Champ hopes to be an agent of change, not just this week but for years to come.
“I think with everything that’s happened—including what happened at the U.S. Capitol—I mean, it can’t get any worse,” he said. “I think this is about as bad as it’s ever been as far as race and equality goes.
“But the tour backing what we’re doing, other people showing the support, what we’re doing with the golf team, just giving them the support and access to be able to even have a chance. That’s the main thing, just giving them the opportunity. Whether they make it on tour or not, it’s just at least giving them the chance to succeed in what they want to do. It just goes back to my roots and what I’ve always been taught, which is appreciate what you have but always give back as much as you can.”