CHICAGO – The BMW Championship leaderboard told the story of a tour event that played more like a U.S. Open, a notable contrast to what transpired 17 years ago at Olympia Fields.
Cameron Champ's golf shoes told another story. The biracial Champ, an emerging star, wore one white and one black Nike and scrawled messages onto both:
"Papa Champ," an ode to his African American grandfather, Mack, a guiding force who introduced him to the game.
"Breonna Taylor BLM," a tribute to the emergency medical technician shot and killed by police March 13 in Louisville, Ky. And BLM for Black Lives Matter, a rallying cry for those fed up with racial injustice.
Like many in the opening round, Champ had a tough time Thursday with the wind, the 6-inch rough, fairways less than 30 yards wide and greens running almost as hot as the sun, which produced a heat index of 99 degrees. He shot 7-over 77.
But after grinding for four-plus hours, he still managed to speak powerfully on a difficult topic, pointing to statistics regarding the incarceration of African Americans and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
"As a country, we've dug ourselves a hole," Champ said. "Now with media and people videotaping and seeing things, people are starting to talk about it. That's a good thing. Without dialogue, nothing is going to happen. Obviously there's still a lot of stuff going on that quite frankly should not be happening at all. And even with Jacob Blake, regardless of if he has a criminal record, he is still a human being. It just has to end."
Champ entered 25th on the FedEx Cup points list and will need to improve over the final three rounds to secure one of the 30 spots in next week's Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Hideki Matsuyama, who entered 18th, is looking strong after a 3-under 67. The only other players under par were Tyler Duncan (68) and Mackenzie Hughes (69).
It's a shame spectators were not allowed on the grounds because of COVID-19 protocols or else Duncan would have earned massive applause for his par save from the front-left bunker on 18.
The 31-year-old Duncan hails from Columbus, Ind., and played at Purdue. His caddie, Zach Guthrie, older brother of Korn Ferry Tour player Luke Guthrie, coached at Illinois.
"I do feel comfortable here," Duncan said. "It feels a lot like a summer round that I grew up playing. It's hot, it's windy and my caddie has been around here a bunch."
Northwestern's Matthew Fitzpatrick (70), Tony Finau (70), Rory McIlroy (70) and Dustin Johnson (71) were among the notables who performed well on a day with a scoring average of 72.8.
Last week Johnson made a mockery of TPC Boston, shooting 67-60-64-63 for a 30-under total. Same sport, different world.
"It's very difficult to hit the fairways out here," Johnson said. "You get a lot of crosswinds, and the golf course is super firm."
Tiger Woods, who needs at least a top-four finish to advance, is tied for 35th after a bogey-bogey-bogey finish spoiled what had been an even-par round. Woods said the intense heat did not affect him.
"I live in Florida, and this is no different," he said. "It's just a little muggy."
Whereas Champ said he did consider following the lead of some NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS teams by declining to play – "I definitely thought about it but I feel like I can do more by playing, showing my support and expressing myself" – Woods did not contemplate sitting out after speaking with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan
"He released his statement, and all the guys were on board," Woods said. "So there was talk about it obviously because of what happened, but we're all on the same page."
The PGA Tour's statement asserted the tour supports the leagues protesting racial injustice "and any of our own members standing up for issues they believe in."
Tony Finau, the first PGA Tour player of Tongan and Samoan descent, said sitting out "did not really cross my mind, but I understood the magnitude of what the NBA was doing. I know the PGA Tour is in full support of that, and again, it's a conversation that's uncomfortable, sensitive for our country, but if we're not willing to have it, I don't think we can move forward."
Finau expertly handled the rugged conditions, shooting 70.
"I mentioned to some of the guys (Wednesday) that I felt like I was preparing for a major championship, namely the U.S. Open," he said.
Olympia Fields hosted the 2003 U.S. Open, and because of rain, mowed-down rough and unfavorable wind, the course played more like a Quad City Open for three days. Vijay Singh shot 63 and eventual champion Jim Furyk set the 54-hole scoring record.
"I love the way the golf course is playing," Finau said Thursday. "Extremely tough."
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