Peck takes wild ride to success
After placing second at three previous American Junior Golf Association tournaments, Timberline (Lacey, Wash.) High School's Cameron Peck stared down yet another near-miss.
He trailed the leader at last April's Wellstone Communities Junior by a shot after 15 holes of the final round and was running out of time to mount a comeback.
Little did Peck know the next three holes would forever change his life. He birdied the 16th hole, then pulled ahead on the 17th after just missing a hole-in-one. Peck maintained his momentum on the 18th with a third straight birdie to lock up his first AJGA victory.
The win kicked off an unforgettable stretch for Peck, who in four months went from virtual unknown to the nation's best golfer from the Class of 2009. He won four events, including the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, and played in a PGA tourney.
Then in November he became the first golfer from the Pacific Northwest to be named Rolex Junior Player of the Year, an award previously won by golf heavyweights Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
"It's just an unexplainable feeling knowing your name goes with all these great players like Phil and Tiger," says Peck.
Now a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, Peck is the nation's No. 2 player in the Polo Golf Rankings (tops among the senior class). He will golf for national power Texas A&M next year but first hopes to keep his flame burning while competing for a state crown with the Timberline Blazers this spring.
While Peck's national success came in bulk last summer, it wasn't exactly a revelation.
He began playing golf at the behest of his grandfather, Richard Yi, who fashioned a wooden club for a 4-year-old Peck to hit with at an area driving range. After those golf excursions, Yi would tell Peck's parents their son had potential to be great.
Soon Peck started striving to live up to his grandfather's forecast. By the time he was 9, Peck was being coached by local PGA master and renowned golf instructor Joe Thiel, who immediately saw his pupil's raw potential.
"Little kids just want to hit it hard," Thiel says. "He had no foundation. On impact, he was straight up in the air, yet he could hit the ball really good."
Thiel first emphasized improving Peck's short game with hopes it would translate to success in his long game. The tactic was successful. By high school Peck had gained notoriety as one of the most skilled golfers in the area.
"I knew he was going to be good -- his mom told me when he was an eighth-grader," says Timberline coach Don Backman. "He's by far the best. No question." Peck's first three seasons at Timberline were filled with district victories, but he wasn't able to win state. He finished fourth in Class 3A as a sophomore and junior.
Near-misses also marked Peck's record on the national level until the Wellstone Communities Junior. There he sandwiched matching par 72s in the first and final rounds with a 2-under-par 70 in the second round en route to his first major win.
Peck picked up his second career victory nearly two months later at June's FootJoy Invitational, recording birdies on four of his last eight holes to cruise to a six-shot victory that earned him a sponsor's exemption to play in a PGA event.
But before Peck's appearance at August's PGA Wyndham Championship, he was victorious in July at the HP Boys Junior Championship and U.S. Junior Amateur, where he won 10 and 8 in match play -- the largest margin since it became a 36-hole event five years ago.
"It's great to know that all the months of hard work paid off," says Peck, who also finished fifth at August's Junior PLAYERS Championship. "I think this was my busiest summer."
Peck ended up missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship by five strokes, yet he still relished the opportunity to live out his dream of being a pro. At least for a couple of days.
"At first I wasn't that nervous," Peck says. "When I got there and looked around and saw Vijay (Singh) and David (Duval) in the locker room, I got a little nervous."
During his remarkable journey, Peck has racked up a ton of frequent-flier miles while bouncing around from Texas to North Carolina to Florida to Alabama to South Carolina to Arizona to Oklahoma.
"We are all over the place," says Peck's mom, Misun. "We've been saving money and vacation (time) to go to tournaments with him."
With such a loaded schedule, Peck relishes the opportunity to get off the links and hit the gym, even for just a few hours here and there. He fills his afternoons with cardio workouts and often trains with mixed martial arts fighters.
Of course, with all his success on the golf course, who could blame Peck for being infatuated with the links more than anything else?
"He loves golf," Thiel says. "I don't see anything that could stop him."
That might be the case nationally, but on the state level Peck has been anything but unstoppable. In addition to two consecutive fourth-place finishes at state, he led after the first day of the Class 3A tournament as a freshman before slipping to a fifth-place finish.
In May, Peck hopes to finally zero in on that elusive state title. But if he falls short, it's OK -- the title of defending U.S. Junior Amateur champion fits him just fine.
David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
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