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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Something extraordinary is happening this week at the Masters. For the first time in memory, and very likely for the first time ever, a golfer is speaking out strongly and persistently for voting rights, social justice and civil rights while at the same time playing in this iconic tournament at a private club that didn’t allow a Black man to be a member until 1990 or a woman until 2012.
The golfer is biracial. His name is Cameron Champ. He’s only 25. Last year, he wrote the names of police shooting victims Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake on his shoes at a PGA Tour event. When he walked onto the driving range that day, he said, “I got asked by three different people, ‘Who are they?’ To me, that proves the point of why I’m doing it.”
This thoughtful young man, this prodigious, big-hitting talent, is just three strokes out of the lead halfway through the Masters. Whatever happens the rest of the way, here is an athlete who is meeting the moment, both on the field of play and off.
Tiger Woods, with all his power, has rarely cared to publicly address controversial social and cultural issues.
Champ, on the other hand, won’t stop talking about them.
It began earlier this week when he was asked about the tournament being played against the backdrop of Georgia’s new voter suppression law, which civil rights groups believe will restrict voting access for people of color – and specifically if he thought Augusta National would say anything about it.
“I would think so,” Champ said. “I think a lot of people are very disappointed to see (the law). As you can tell, it really targets certain Black communities and makes it harder to vote, which to me, it's everyone's right to vote. For me to see that, it's very shocking. Obviously, with MLB and what they did and moving the All-Star Game was a big statement. I know there's a bunch of other organizations and companies that have moved things.
“Again, this is a prestigious event, and I know there's a lot going on with it and the people involved with it. But, yeah, it was definitely a little bit frustrating to see that. This week I'll definitely be supporting doing some things throughout the week.”
It turned out that when asked specifically about the law at his Wednesday news conference, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley refused to condemn it, declining to say whether he was for it or against it.
After his scintillating four-under-par round of 68 Friday, Champ was once again at the microphone, and once again not backing down.
“That’s what they decided to do and that was what their opinion was of it,” he said. “I have nothing negative to say about that. I guess I don’t know. For a lot of people, it can be a very touchy subject, especially around the Masters and I get that. Is it a little frustrating? Maybe.”
Would he continue to talk about the issue?
“Oh, of course. Of course. Like I said, it’s very frustrating to see that happen. It’s very disturbing too, to be honest. But again, I’m going to speak out. I’m going to be respectful about it. But at the end of the day, it’s what’s right and what needs to happen.”
The other day, he was asked if he liked being the guy who had to step up and use his platform to discuss issues that no one else is willing to talk about.
“It's not that I like to be; it's something I feel like I have to do. Obviously, I like it because it's who I am, but it's just like I have to do that. It's a subject that hasn't been brought up since everything's happened. It just kind of gets pushed to the back burner like it does always.”
So, he said, he is “just trying to keep it going and trying to create more foundation around it to get it going and get it building because – social injustice or equality or race, it's only talked about when bad incidents happen, which is kind of unfortunate. Like I said, just got to keep pushing.”
Champ was at the first tee Thursday morning when Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in the Masters, in 1975, was introduced as one of the tournament’s honorary starters. Elder inspired Champ’s late grandfather to take up the game, and it was that grandfather who bought Cameron his first set of plastic clubs at the age of 2, starting him on his way.
“Just to kind of witness history, honestly,” Champ said. “Lee is someone who was a figure to my grandfather growing up. If it wasn't for my grandfather – my dad was a professional baseball player – I probably would have played baseball or some other sport. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be standing here.
“For me, today, I just wanted to give that back to him.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: At Masters Cameron Champ doesn't back away from opposing Georgia law