His coach has called him “mentally the toughest guy on the team,” and now Cameron Peck is faced with a challenge that will truly test his will:
Filling the hours of a summer suddenly devoid of golf.
Peck, the Timberline High graduate and 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, is a junior at Texas A&M and the top player on the Aggies’ Big 12 Conference champion golf team.
While his teammates are in Los Angeles this week for the NCAA championships at Riviera Country Club, Peck is out with an injury.
He’ll miss all of the postseason after finally giving in to the pain of a degenerative condition in the disks of his lower back.
“I feel terrible for Cam,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said. “The good news is, with rest and rehab, he should be back by fall.”
Said Peck, “It’s disappointing. I was really excited about how well I was playing. It happens – you make the best of it.”
Peck said he first noticed the pain in December, at the end of the fall half of the Aggies’ golf season, and he didn’t think much about it.
“In the spring season, it got progressively worse and worse,” Peck said, “until the Aggie Invite (April 21-22), I did a swing and tweaked it. I could barely finish the round.”
He’ll stay in College Station through the summer, and he’s already embarked on an eight-week program of physical therapy.
It’s the other part of the doctor’s prescription – rest and more rest – that will be the challenge.
Rest, more than anything else, means no golf. Summer has usually meant nothing but golf for Peck – playing in tournaments and traveling to the next one – since his earliest days in the sport, through his years as one of the nation’s most talented junior golfers, right up until this summer.
“I don’t know what to do with my extra time,” he said.
Lately, he’s been swimming – it takes pressure off his back and helps him stay in shape in the absence of any other kind of workout.
A casual glance at the team’s regular-season statistics show hardly any sign that Peck was playing with pain through the spring.
He led the team with a 72.06 stroke average, had three top-five tournnament finishes and five top-10s. He was named to the all-Big 12 team and the Aggies’ MVP.
Peck confessed to some surprise that he played as well as he did. He was barely practicing between tournaments to rest his back.
The pain, he suggested, might have helped to fine-tune his mental approach: He wasn’t hitting it as well as he liked, so he focused on hitting it where the next shot would be as easy as possible.
Higgins illustrated Peck’s mental toughness by his team-leading performance in the “bounce-back” statistic: how a player scores on a hole immediately following a bogey or double bogey. Peck averaged under par on those holes.
“He’s the best guy we have for staying in the moment,” Higgins said. “If he makes a mistake, it’s ‘Hey, let’s go,’ and moves on.”
“I try not to worry about it,” Peck said. “Everybody’s going to make bogeys. When I make a bogey, I stick to my game plan.”
It wasn’t always that way, he said.
“I used to have, not a bad temper, but I definitely worried about things,” Peck said. “I tried too hard, I tried to force things. With playing so much in college I’ve learned a lot – just let things come.”
When the Big 12 tournament rolled around, the Aggies went on without Peck.
“They played for him,” said Higgins, whose Aggies finished three strokes ahead of No. 1-ranked Texas to claim the school’s first Big 12 golf championship.
“That shows how deep we are,” Peck said.
And tight, too.
Peck, whose sense of golf fashion includes high socks, said his Aggies teammates wore high socks at the conference tournament in his honor.
“I love it down here,” Peck said of Texas A&M, which won the recruiting battle in 2009 to land him. “I would pick this school again, if I had to. I love my teammates, I love my coach.”
He’s equally upbeat about his medical outlook.
The physical therapy is expected to strengthen the muscles around his spine to better support it. And the enforced rest will promote healing – a stress fracture in his back is already mostly healed, he said.
He expects to be able to join his Aggies teammates for the fall season of his senior year.
That would be the best reward, Peck said, for his first summer in a long time without golf.