LOS ANGELES – Doug Ghim was 1 up through 35 holes on Byron Meth in the final of the U.S. Amateur Public Links back 2014. Ghim had never been in a tournament with so much on the line – an exemption into U.S. Open sectional qualifying, a likely invitation to the Masters and the honor of becoming the final Public Links champion.
Disaster struck. He admits now that he blew it then, losing on the first extra hole.
Saturday at historic Riviera Country Club, Ghim never flinched and defeated Theo Humphrey to earn a spot in the 117th U.S. Amateur final Sunday against Doc Redman.
Needing to make a 6-footer for par on the 17th hole to close out his match, Ghim struggled to calm himself.
“I was just trying to feel my hands,” Ghim said. “I’m sure it was visible I was trying to calm myself down. So many thoughts in your head are going at that moment.”
Ghim, a senior at Texas, and his caddie, dad Jeff, both studied the putt and picked an aiming spot. It was the same one.
“Doug, we don’t want to go to the next hole. We have to finish it here,” Jeff Ghim told his son. “Wrap it up. Finish it. Daddy hungry, let’s go.”
Doug took a deep breath and rolled his ball right over that spot, his ball finding the bottom of the cup for a 2-and-1 victory. Redemption.
“Masters! Masters!” Jeff Ghim cried as he embraced his son.
The pain of three years ago will now no longer define his golf journey.
“I did kind of blow it, though, on the last hole,” Ghim said of his Links loss in 2014. “It was just pure inexperience … I’ve never been that amped up before.
Ghim’s ball ended up on the driving range, out of bounds. Then on the first extra hole, he fanned a 3-wood into the hazard.
“I’ve never been in this position before,” Ghim said at that time. “Next time I’ll be ready.”
He was ready Saturday.
Said Doug, who coincidentally picked out his black Masters hat to wear on Saturday: “When that putt on 17 dropped it was the first thing that popped in my head: we’re going to the Masters.”
First, though, Ghim has a U.S. Amateur title to play for. It’s a championship that Ghim has dreamed of winning since he was a little kid hitting balls in a makeshift hitting bay in the Ghims’ backyard in Arlington Heights, Ill.
However, he must first go through Redman, who has had similar dreams. The Clemson sophomore beat Virginia Tech junior Mark Lawrence Jr., 1 up, in the other semifinal.
Lawrence got the match back to all square on 17, draining an eagle putt. But after he hit his approach shot long on the 18th hole and ran his birdie putt nearly off the front of the green, Redman calmly two-putted from the front fringe to seal the win.
“Just happened to go my way and I won,” said Redman, 19, who is ranked 70th in the WAGR and is now a strong candidate to make the U.S. Walker Cup team.
Ghim, ranked seventh in the world and already a lock to make that Walker Cup squad, was down in his match early, but held a 4-up lead after 12. Humphrey clawed back, winning both par 3s on the back nine, Nos. 14 and 16. But on 17, the 21-year-old Humphrey, ranked 42nd in the world, hit his tee ball right and was forced to lay up. He did find the green with a nice third shot, but his birdie miss left the door open for Ghim.
Ghim has attended the Masters twice and has played Augusta National three times with his Texas teammates. During one of his visits to play, Ghim toured the Crow’s Nest, where amateurs typically stay during the tournament.
“It was kind of like, ‘OK, I don’t really want to be in here,'” Ghim said.
And at the 2015 Masters, the one he was so close to playing, Ghim attended the Monday practice round. He had to take an exam that morning, but joined his teammates later in the day. He’ll never forget the first group he saw.
“I remember stepping up there, it was the eighth tee, and I see Rory and I see Spieth, and I walk up and J.P. (Hebert, Texas’ assistant coach) goes, ‘Oh, no,'” Ghim recalled.
“I look and the last name was Meth. … Then I get to the range to avoid all that mess, and the first person I see walk on to the tee is Byron Meth, and the rest of my teammates are like, ‘Let’s go have lunch. We got to get you away from this guy.'”
When Doug was in middle school, he used to tell his dad that if he qualified for the Masters that Jeff would get to caddie and also hit a shot in the Par 3 Contest.
Now, after vanquishing the demons from three years ago, Doug Ghim will finally get to fulfill that promise.