OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Golf played on even as other sports in America stopped, and it gave Cameron Champ a chance to speak out at the BMW Championship.
First, with his shoes.
Then, with powerful words about a desire to find a solution to racial injustice.
Champ is one of four players of Black heritage on the PGA Tour, and one of only two — the other is Tiger Woods — who reached the second of three events in the FedEx Cup postseason. He arrived at Olympia Fields wearing a white shoe on his right foot and a black shoe on his left.
On the right shoe were the words “Jacob Blake” and “BLM” for the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of Blake being shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis., about 90 miles to the north of Olympia Fields.
Written on his sneakers is “Papa Champ,” his grandfather who died late last year. His grandfather was Black, as is his father, Jeff, who briefly played minor league baseball. His grandfather grew up in the South during the Jim Crow era.
“When people say all lives matter, yes, all lives matter, but so do Black lives,” Champ said. “It’s a situation where, again, as a country, as a whole we’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole. Now with media and people videotaping and seeing things, it’s starting to come alive. People are starting to talk about it, which is the good thing. Without dialogue, without talking about it, nothing is going to happen.
“It’s a decent start, but obviously there’s still a lot of stuff going on that quite frankly should not be happening at all,” he said. “It just has to end.”
Champ was among the few players who were under par midway through the opening round of the BMW Championship until his round got away from him. He had two double bogeys on the front nine for a 42 that put him in danger of missing out on the Tour Championship next week.
Hideki Matsuyama to made a 65-foot birdie putt on his final hole Thursday to lead the BMW Championship.
Matsuyama, a Japanese player who has gone three years since his last victory, birdied two of his last three holes for a 3-under-par 67, one of only three rounds under par on a course that was long, tough, firm, fast and nothing like the last two weeks.
“I’m not sure really what I had going today, but that last putt, the long putt that went in, very happy with that one,” Matsuyama said. “So we’ll remember that one.”
Dustin Johnson, who won The Northern Trust last week at 30-under-par, opened with a 71. He was told that even three straight rounds of 60 would not be enough to reach 30 under at Olympia Fields.
“Yeah, but I would win,” he said.
Woods needs to finish around fourth to have any hope of returning to East Lake next week in Atlanta to chase the $15 million bonus for the FedEx Cup winner. He was hovering around even par a few shots out of the lead. Woods finished with three straight bogeys for a 73 and was running hotter than the weather.
A three-time U.S. Open champion, Woods knows all about control and patience and key pars putts. And then he let a reasonable round get away from him.
“The course was fine. The course is in perfect shape. Not the way I wanted to finish,” Woods said in brief comments.
The event has no spectators but Champ had a gallery Thursday that included PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan for the last few holes of his opening nine holes. Monahan was tracing developments Wednesday night when the N.B.A. did not play three playoff games, and other sports soon followed. Postponing the BMW Championship, even for a day, did not appear to be part of the conversation.
Woods said he was in touch with Monahan on whether to play and “all the guys were on board.”
“Obviously, there was talk about it because of what happened,” Woods said. “But we’re all on board, on the same page.”
The PGA Tour released a statement before the round began that it supported the “player-led, peaceful, powerful ways” the other leagues — N.B.A., M.L.B., soccer, W.N.B.A. and women’s tennis — sought to bring about change.
“The PGA Tour supports them — and any of our own members — standing up for issues they believe in,” the statement said.
The tour said in June, after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, that it was committed to racial equity and inclusion in the cities where it plays and would increase support for national movements. Monahan and golfer Justin Varner, who is Black, participated in a video discussion on race, after Varner posted to social media a description of his experiences growing up as a Black golfer in Gastonia, N.C.
The protests hit home to Tony Finau, who is of Tongan and Samoan descent, and has talked about facing discrimination because of the color of his skin. His cousin is Sacramento Kings forward Jabari Parker.
Finau said it never crossed his mind not to play Thursday, but he appreciated “the magnitude of what the N.B.A. was doing and what they were boycotting for, and I know the PGA Tour is in full support of that.”
“It’s a conversation that’s uncomfortable, sensitive for our country,” Finau said. “But if we’re not willing to have those, I don’t think we can move forward as a country. I’m open to having a conversation with anybody on the issue, and again, I think we’re in full support of what the N.B.A. has done.”