Perfect timing as azaleas bloom for the Masters
The flowers can be impacted by temperature, and if it warms up in Georgia, experts say they’ll last only a few more weeks.
As Jeff Champ – dressed in a blue polo and a black Nike hat with “equality.” embroidered on the right side, matching his son’s – tackled the monstrous hills of one of golf’s most storied courses for the first time, he felt an assortment of emotions.
On one end, it was a pact fulfilled with his then-15-year-old son, Cameron, and the family: That no one would go to Augusta National until Cameron had earned it.
On the other end, it was a reminder that his son is the only Black golfer in the field for the 85th Masters Tournament.
“Coming down Magnolia Lane, it was special; it was special to know that my dad wasn’t allowed to play golf because of the color of his skin and today, his grandson’s playing in the Masters,” the elder Champ said. “And you know, it’s special to be here, but it’s a lot of history here. It’s just a blessing to be here and hopefully he can leave with the green jacket.”
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Black golfers weren’t permitted at Augusta National Golf Club until Lee Elder broke the color barrier in the 1975 Masters, 46 years ago. The word Jeff kept repeating during Thursday’s opening round was special.
Not only was it special to see his son shoot even-par 72, but it was also special that he was able to attend the honorary starters ceremony, as Lee Elder took the first tee.
“I started tearing up; I’m tearing up right now about it because you get a guy like that. That’s what, the (first) Black golfer to ever play at the Masters and you see what this gentleman has been through, I feel like that should have happened a long time ago,” Jeff said. “It’s never too late. You saw him smiling, I got to talk to him (Wednesday) and seeing him smiling, it’s overdue and well deserved.”
Jeff said his father, Mack, was with him in spirit while he paced the course Thursday. Mack, who died last fall after a battle with cancer, has always been a big supporter of Cameron and is a large reason he has advanced so far in golf.
“There’s a lot of emotions there. When I see (Cameron) right now, getting ready to hit a drive, it just takes me back to my dad when all he could do was caddie,” Mr. Champ said. “For us to be out here, in this environment, he’s the only Black, pro golfer in the Masters this year, there’s not very many Black and Brown fans here, it means a lot. It means a lot that we belong here.”
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For Cameron, who’s said Lee Elder was an inspiration for him, it was a special moment for him as well at the honorary starters ceremony.
“Just to be the first African-American to play on the Augusta grounds, just the stories from my own grandfather, again, it’s – I think our society’s going in the proper direction. Is there a lot to go? Very much so. But for him, again, what he’s done in the communities where he lives, just throughout the entire sport for African-Americans and minorities, it’s huge,” Cameron said.
“Again, to witness that in person, it means even more.”
Cameron said he thought he played well in Thursday’s first round. After a birdie on No. 2, he struggled with the third hole, four-putting for double bogey.
From there, he made four birdies and three bogeys to finish even.
“It felt great. Like I said, I played well today. I had two bad holes, 30 minutes out of the four hours were bad, and the rest were good. So just going to take all the positives from today,” Cameron said.
He added it was nice to have a gallery as well. When he competed here in November, it was just the players. Thursday, Cameron had his entourage, including his wife, mother, father and sister, following him throughout the round.
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And though his father was quiet throughout most of the day, he couldn’t help but yelp out a, “Yeah, baby!” after his son two-putt for par to end his day.
Last year, the father’s hope was for Cameron to make it to Sunday. He hopes the same for this year, and maybe a little more.
“Once you make the cut, you know, for him to be playing on a Sunday would just be amazing this year and if he can be in contention this year, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” Mr. Champ said.
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