June 17, 2017 / 12:58 AM / 2 months ago

Long-driving Champ takes advantage of Erin Hills' generosity

Jun 16, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Cameron Champ plays his shot from the ninth tee during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Big hitters Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day were expected to thrive on the wide open fairways of Erin Hills, hosting Wisconsin's first U.S. Open.

However, while the world's top three are making other plans for the weekend after missing the cut, college amateur Cameron Champ is proving that massive tee shots can still help get the job done on the long, links-style layout.

Champ, a qualifier from Texas A&M, is leading the 156-player field in average driving distance over the first two rounds at 339 yards, and is tied for eighth on the leaderboard, two shots off the pace at five-under-par after Friday's three-under 69.

"It feels great. I came in this week with no expectations really at all," said the 22-year-old. "The course sets up very well for me off the tee. If you hit it off the tee you can score."

Champ is used to belting the ball a long, long way.

"In college I normally am the longest. I guess I've just kind of always been that way. You've still got to make a score. Here if you can hit it long and straight, it's a great advantage. I took advantage of it the last few days."

Jun 16, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Cameron Champ watches his shot on the eighth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Californian has been bashing the ball great distances for a long time.

"I just naturally have done it since I was 15 or 16. As I've gotten older, I've gotten a little farther, but a lot more straighter. When I was younger it went everywhere. That didn't work out too well.

"This is the first time I've been in kind of the spotlight. I've known my game could be capable ... with my distance and my wedge game. So it's just nice to see it come along at the right time."

Champ said a practice round with former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and four-times major winner McIlroy on Monday helped his confidence.

"Just to see their games and how they play, I've grown up watching them. And I can hit those shots. So that just kind of gave me a confidence boost, knowing I can hit those shots."

Helping him cope at the tournament is college room mate and caddie Jake Goodman.

"My best friend has caddied for me for six or seven years," said Champ. "It's fun having him on the bag. When I get down he kind of tells me a joke or something dumb. He keeps me smiling."

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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