Farmington • Although he posted top-10 finishes in four consecutive Web.com Tour starts coming into the Utah Championship, Cameron Champ never really experienced the nervousness that comes with having a chance to win.
Those feelings hit him this weekend at Oakridge Country Club, and his breakthrough did not come easily. Even so, winning the tournament was not as tough as the process of turning around his season a couple of months ago.
Champ absorbed an 18th-hole bogey Sunday, finishing one shot ahead of Steven Ihm and completing his rise from an average Web.com Tour rookie as of mid-May to a player destined for the PGA Tour in October. The former Texas A&M golfer from Sacramento shot 61-64-67-68 for a total of 24 under par, three strokes better than the winning score last July in Oakridge’s first staging of the event presented by Zions Bank.
“This is new for me, pressure-wise,” Champ said. “I’ve never felt it, but I loved it. And I was able to handle myself well enough.”
Thanks to the $126,000 prize that doubled his season's earnings, Champ clinched PGA Tour access for the 2018-19 schedule by moving to No. 3 on the Web.com Tour money list.
“It’s just crazy to think about,” Champ said.
Champ shares an agent with PGA Tour player Tony Finau, the Salt Lake City native whose foundation is associated with the tournament, so he said he was thrilled to win in “Tony’s territory.”
Patrick Fishburn, from Fremont High School and BYU, tied for 24th at 15 under after his third 67 in four days. Next stop: Omaha. Lacking any Web.com Tour status, Fishburn took advantage of his sponsor exemption with a top-25 finish, earning a spot in the next tournament.
Ihm was just as happy about finishing second as Champ was about winning. The Iowa pro was playing in only his third event of the season, due to his limited access, and earned $75,600 with a closing 65. Sam Burns finished another shot back after a 64 and, like Champ, secured his PGA Tour card. Third-round leader Jim Knous faded to a tie fourth with a 72.
Ihm is proof of what can happen when a player finishes in the top 25 and earns another start, as he did in the previous event in New York. “Just an awesome week,” he said after celebrating with a double fist pump as he walked out of the scoring trailer. “I’m just excited about my persistence this week.”
Playing two groups ahead of the winner, Ihm applied mild pressure to Champ, who had made four birdies on the front nine to build a four-stroke lead. Champ bogeyed the par-4 No. 12 (Oakridge’s nines are reversed for the tournament), but steadied himself with a birdie on the par-5 No. 15. T
hat pretty much removed any doubt about his victory, although Ihm could have made things more interesting if he had converted a birdie try on No. 18.
From a Utah perspective, Sunday’s drama occurred while Fishburn played the back nine — and then for about 90 minutes afterward, when he was in danger of falling out of the top 25.
For the second day in a row, Fishburn made four straight birdies on the back nine. “I’m just kind of a streaky player,” he said. “When I’m playing good, I feel like I can hit any shot.”
In Sunday’s case, he gave back a stroke by missing a par putt from inside 3 feet on No. 17, with the ball spinning violently out of the hole and leaving him “pretty shocked,” he said. “Hopefully, that doesn’t cost me.”
It didn’t. So Fishburn will remember how he saved a par on No. 18 with a 25-foot putt, having missed the green after driving into the rough. He more than validated his sponsor exemption by playing four solid rounds and having dozens of friends and relatives follow him around Oakridge. “I had a blast,” he said.
Fishburn can keep playing this tour as long as he strings together top-25 finishes. His primary membership this summer is in the Mackenzie Tour of Canada.
Orem native Scott Pinckney, a Web.com Tour member, also tied for 24th as he continues his recovery from a back injury.