Detroit — It was about 4:30 in the afternoon Wednesday, and Cameron Champ was back home in Houston, sitting on his couch, wondering when he might get to play the PGA Tour again.
Then the phone rang: How about tomorrow, in Detroit?
“We got the call saying, ‘Do you want to play,'” Champ said. “And I’m like, ‘Of course I want to play.'”
By 6:30 Thursday morning, he was boarding a plane to Detroit. He arrived less than three hours later, went through all his pre-tournament screenings and health and safety protocols — and finally, about 10 minutes before 1 p.m., Champ was on the course practicing for his 2:10 p.m., last of the first day of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.
Champ became the first PGA Tour player to return to competition after testing positive for COVID-19.
He’s one of six PGA Tour players and two caddies to test positive since the restart early last month at Colonial. Champ said doctors have confirmed he had a false positive test.
Over the last week, he had three negative tests in a 72-hour period, prompting the PGA Tour — in line with updated CDC recommendations — to allow Champ to return to the course, nine days after he first tested positive at the Travelers Championship and had to withdraw.
Cameron Champ hits off the 11th tee during the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. (Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP)
“Through the specialist that we worked with, at this point it’s clear that I never had it,” said Champ, 25. “As far as their medical opinion, it’s pretty clear that I never had it.
“(I’m) still being precautious because if I happen to do get it, then it affects my family deeply, with my fiancee’s father and a few other family members. If they get it, it can cause serious harm.”
Champ said his fiancee’s father has a heart condition, so he’s been extremely cautious since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year.
That’s why the positive test “was a shocker.”
He then tested last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, each coming back negative, and then was allowed to travel home to Texas from Connecticut on Saturday afternoon.
In announcing his addition to the Detroit field Wednesday night, the PGA Tour updated its policy, saying any player who tests positive but is asymptomatic can return sooner than the 10-day quarantine period, if they are able to show the multiple negative tests, taken at least 24 hours apart.
Champ was given a 157th spot in the Rocket Mortgage Classic field, with tournament officials opting not to remove another player. He was given the last tee time of the day, and went out in a twosome alongside Canton’s Donnie Trasper, a Michigan State alum.
“Everyone was supportive,” Champ said of the reaction to his arrival from the other pros, who voted to alter the policy that got him into the field. “They all had my back and supported me and knew my situation.
“So it was just nice not to have people look at me, ‘Oh, he has corona, we have to be careful’ type of deal.”
That didn’t stop Champ from continuing to be careful himself, using every bottle of hand sanitizer he saw while playing his opening round.
Champ started a little slow, but surged to post a 3-under 69, four shots off the lead.
Champ was in serious contention through two rounds here a year ago — and made some new fans, who gushed over his long drives (he’s still No. 1 in the PGA Tour, though that’ll be Bryson DeChambeau by year’s end) — before stumbling on the weekend and finishing tied for 46th. He definitely wanted another crack at it, and was thrilled, and surprised, when he got the call that it’d happen this week.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I love this course.”