Cameron Champ is no stranger to the Aiken area. The amateur golfer from Sacramento, Calif., has returned to the CSRA to play in the Junior Invitational for the third year in a row.


The veteran of the prestigious junior golf tournament ventured away from Sage Valley Golf Club for a little while Monday, but he still brought his clubs with him. That’s because Champ was holding an instructional clinic for members of the area chapters of The First Tee at Houndslake Country Club.


Champ, also a member of The First Tee, was looking for a way to give back to the area that has shown him so much hospitality during his visits to compete in the Junior Invitational. This desire was turned into a brief lesson as well as a Q&A session for some area boys and girls involved with The First Tee.


“I’ve grown up with The First Tee since I was eight. I’m still involved,” said the 18-year-old Champ, who’s the 12th ranked junior in the world according to Golfweek and will play for Texas A&M in the fall.


“I want to explain what The First Tee is trying to do. It’s great to give back since I’ve been given so much.”


In addition to fielding questions and offering some instruction, Champ showed off his prodigious hitting ability. He’s known as one of the most powerful players in a field of long-ball hitters in the Junior Invitational, which will again be a 36-hole championship running from Thursday through Saturday. Champ said he averages tee shots that cover 305-310 yards during tournament play, but will display more length as needed. That can mean drives routinely covering 350 yards in tournaments.


Although he downplayed it, Champ admitted to hitting shots that have traveled well beyond 400 yards, when he was just, “fooling around.” His ability to crush the ball could be a major asset this week at Sage Valley. The picturesque course is as long as it is striking, covering 7,344 yards.


“The course sets up well for me hitting the ball well,” said Champ, who finished 11th and 14th in his previous showings in the Junior Invitational, a tournament which features the top 54 junior boys in the world and is recognized as the premier event of its kind. “I’m one of the longer hitters in junior golf, so if I can stay in the fairway here I’ll have a chance to win. On this course, that’s key.”


Champ said Sage Valley demands precision as well as power. He said it’s critical to land shots in specific areas, especially on the greens.


“It’s a strategic course. One shot, one hole can change a lot,” said Champ, who lauded the Junior Invitational. “It’s the Junior Masters.”


He praised the quality of the course and practice facilities. Champ said he has also enjoyed the treatment the players receive while staying at Sage Valley for the tournament. He thanked the tournament organizers, the staff of the club, the cooks who prepare the meals and the fans taking in the Junior Invitational for all of the support.


All of those things make it clear why Champ was excited to travel from one coast to another for a third consecutive year. Another factor was the camaraderie among the players, who get to room with each other in the cabins at Sage Valley. Champ said all of the American juniors were friends and appreciate the chance to hang out together. Champ also said the Junior Invitational was special because it offers the opportunity to meet the fields of international players participating.


This year’s tournament features 13 players from nine different countries outside of the U.S. While Champ looks forward to meeting the players, he’s equally enthusiastic about competing against them. He said he just wants to play solid and steady rounds on Thursday and Friday – the first two days of the tournament. If he can do that, it will give him an opportunity to win.


“I just want to give myself a chance on the final day to win,” said Champ, who stressed setting goals and having the perseverance to pursue them during The First Tee clinic. “I told them to never give up. To keep going and practicing and set goals. Golf is challenging because it takes time. I’m still seeing results.”


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.


AT A GLANCE


WHAT: 2014 Junior Invitational


WHERE: Sage Valley Golf Club


WHEN: Thursday-Saturday


BADGES


• Tournament Patron Badges are $5


• Children 12 and under with an adult are free


• Badges may be purchased at the gate upon arrival


• Tournament VIP Badges, which include breakfast, lunch and access to the VIP tent are $150 for the weekend


SCHEDULE


THURSDAY – First Round


• Gates, Electrolux Pavilion & Golf Shop opens, 7:30 a.m.


• Opening ceremonies, 8:30 a.m.


• First tournament tee time, 9 a.m.


• Last tournament tee time, Noon


FRIDAY – Second Round


• Gates, Electrolux Pavilion & Golf Shop opens, 7:30 a.m.


• First tournament tee time, 9 a.m.


• Last tournament tee time, Noon


SATURDAY – Final Round


• Gates, Electrolux Pavilion & Golf Shop opens, 7:30 a.m.


• First tournament tee time, 9 a.m.


• Last tournament tee time, Noon


• Blazer & Trophy presentation, 5 p.m.


PAST WINNERS


• 2011 – Nicholas Reach


• 2012 – Zachary Olsen


• 2013 – Carson Young