Ghim outlasts Niebrugge in 23 holes at Public Links

Doug Ghim, right, gets a big hug from his caddie/father, Jeff, after Doug beat Jordan Niebrugge in 23 holes at the 2014 Amateur Public Links.
Doug Ghim, right, gets a big hug from his caddie/father, Jeff, after Doug beat Jordan Niebrugge in 23 holes at the 2014 Amateur Public Links. ( USGA )

Thursday, July 17, 2014

NEWTON, Kan. – As Jordan Niebrugge circled his par putt on the fifth extra hole of his round of 16 match with Doug Ghim, Ghim’s father, Jeff, stole a moment with his son. As caddie, “Papa Bear,” as Doug referred to his dad, dropped to his knees to line up putts for his son, and his unflinching support included high-fives and back slaps. But at this critical juncture in the match, he couldn’t resist pulling Doug aside, hugging him and whispering words a son will never forget.

“Whatever the outcome today, I’m proud of you,” Jeff said. “You’ve played great. You should have no regrets.”

Moments later, after Niebrugge had missed, the Ghims lined up a 10-foot par putt to knock off the defending champion, and Doug replayed his dad’s encouragement.

Describing the moment afterwards, he said, “That meant a lot to me, and it gave me the boost of confidence I needed.”

One last look at the hole and Ghim struck the putt for a 1-up victory in 23 holes, advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Sand Creek Station Golf Course, where he will face John Oda of Honolulu.

Niebrugge of Mequon, Wis., may have been the No. 52 seed but he is a star at Oklahoma State, a Walker Cupper who has competed in the Masters and is the fourth-ranked amateur, according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings. He bashed drives more than 50 yards past Ghim on several occasions. So on the front nine, Ghim deliberately didn’t watch Niebrugge hit a single shot. “I didn’t even know what his swing looked like,” he said. “I knew it would be intimidating.”

Ghim, an 18-year-old from Arlington Heights, Ill., is no slouch either, ranking No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Boys’ rankings and headed to University of Texas in the fall. He shared medalist honors this week and his first two matches had ended before the 15th hole. Against Niebrugge, Ghim got off to a flying start, making birdies at Nos. 3 and 5 – and when Niebrugge hit into the left hazard on the sixth, Ghim grabbed the sixth hole, too. One hole later, he planted a 50-degree wedge to 3 feet and made the putt to go 4 up after seven.

Niebrugge was down but not out. His coach, Tom Anton, has taught him to play as if he’s 1 down. So 4 down didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

“I told myself, ‘Hang in there. You’ll get your turn,’ ” Niebrugge said.

He got one back at 8 when Ghim’s approach sailed long. Then Niebrugge’s putting stroke wakened and he birdied Nos. 9, 10 and 12.

“I was like, ‘What just happened?’ ” Ghim said.

His lead was gone. And yet he smiled. He looked at his scorecard and realized he was 2 under.

“That’s a pretty good score on a pretty tough course so I just told myself, ‘I’m playing pretty good,’ ” Ghim said.

Yet he was in danger of falling behind at the par-3 13th when he fanned his tee shot into the fescue. Ghim opened the face wide and took a violent hack. The ball popped out and parachuted within 3 feet of the hole. “It was a hit and hope,” he said.

Ghim regained the lead one hole later, when he rolled in a 25-footer for birdie.

“I told my dad I was going to make that one,” Ghim said. “That was big because it cut some of Jordan’s momentum.”

Niebrugge wasn’t slowed for long, answering by bombing a drive to the front edge of the putting surface at the 340-yard 15th hole. He made birdie and the match was all square again.

“Then it turned into a par-fest,” Niebrugge said.

They halved the next three holes, but not without a bit of drama at 18. After Ghim nearly holed a 60-foot uphill birdie putt, Niebrugge decelerated on his 40-foot downhill birdie try. It stopped more than 10 feet short. Somehow with the pressure ratcheted up 10 times, he gathered his wits and hit a putt just hard enough to trickle in to keep the match alive.

This was the type of match where no one deserved to lose and it seemed like no one ever would. As Ghim put it, “We both hung on to each other like parasites. Neither of us would go away.”

Ghim made a remarkable recovery from trouble at the 20th hole, the par-4, 11th, after his drive faded into the right rough and a tree obstructed his approach from 120 yards.

“It was just the nastiest lie from the primary rough I’ve had all week,” Ghim said.

He swung his hardest and lobbed a wedge over the tree.

“I don’t have Tiger’s biceps, so I couldn’t get it to the front of the green,” he said.

Ghim’s pitch climbed the ridge and crawled on to the top shelf. It stopped 7 feet below the hole, and he rammed it in for par. Onward to the 22nd hole, where another hole was halved with pars.

At the 23rd hole, Ghim pulled off another Houdini-like escape. His drive settled in the right fairway bunker, not far from the fescue-covered front lip, and he had no choice but to lay up from 186 yards. Niebrugge had no more than 165 yards from the fairway and left his approach just short of the green with the flag tucked left. From 75 yards, Ghim wedged to 10 feet. Advantage Niebrugge, or so it seemed. Niebrugge’s touch around the green had been flawless. His chipping had been the savior that got him into match play when his ball striking was a touch off. So it came as a shock when Niebrugge powered his chip 12 feet past the hole. He was still away.

“I saw it roll by,” Ghim said, “and I said, ‘Wow.' ”

Niebrugge missed on the right and smacked the putter face with his hand as if he knew his luck had run out.

“From the way I started the week, I was pretty proud of how I stuck in there,” Niebrugge said. “I clawed back and was able to get it to even, but just couldn’t get it done. All the credit to him.”

The Ghims read the winning putt in tandem. Often they communicated in Korean, but Papa Bear spoke his final instructions for his son in English, and loud enough for all the spectators ringing the green to hear: “Let’s finish this,” he said.

The ball had eyes for the hole and when it disappeared father and son sank into each other’s arms once more. It was a celebratory hug neither will soon forget.

• • •

Thursday's results

  • Robert Geibel, Pembroke Pines, Fla. (140) def. Cody McManus, Phoenix, Ariz. (144), 19 holes
  • Michael Gellerman, Sterling, Kan. (145) def. Jon Veneziano, Mount Dora, Fla. (145), 3 and 2
  • Doug Ghim, Arlington Heights, Ill. (134) def. Jordan Niebrugge, Mequon, Wis. (146), 23 holes
  • John Oda, Honolulu, Hawaii (140) def. Gavin Green, Malaysia (142), 2 and 1
  • Rico Hoey, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. (134) def. Matt Record, Scottsdale, Ariz. (146), 3 and 2
  • Jess Bonneau, Houston, Texas (146) def. Joshua Baskins, Redding, Calif. (145), 4 and 3
  • Byron Meth, San Diego, Calif. (134) def. Garrett Rank, Canada (141), 3 and 2
  • Bryson Dechambeau, Clovis, Calif. (142) def. Tyler McDaniel, Manchester, Ky. (146), 1 up readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.