NEWTON — Doug Ghim not only showed the essence of match-play golf Thursday afternoon in the third round of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Sand Creek Station.
He showed the defending champion the door.
Ghim, an 18-year-old from Arlington Heights, Ill., and Oklahoma State junior Jordan Niebrugge treated spectators to the longest head-to-head battle of this week’s USGA event, stretching their match to 23 holes. And Ghim, who will attend Texas this fall, won it with the last of three mettle-testing par saves to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.
“We both kind of clung on to each other like parasites,” said Ghim, who rolled in a seven-footer at the par-4 14th to win after Niebrugge chipped 10 feet past and missed his par attempt. “We both wouldn’t go away.”
Ghim joined fellow stroke-play co-medalists Rico Hoey and Byron Meth, and five others who moved on to the championship’s penultimate day, with a 36-hole final scheduled for Saturday. The first of four quarterfinal matches will feature Sterling’s Michael Gellerman against Louisville sophomore Robert Geibel, and begin at 7 a.m. Friday.
Ghim hasn’t trailed in any of his three matches since qualifying as the No. 4 seed with an 8-under-par 134 total on Monday and Tuesday. But Niebrugge, bidding to become the fifth back-to-back winner in the APL’s 89-year history, launched a formidable challenge after losing four of the first seven holes.
“He got off to a fast start, I would say,” said Niebrugge, who watched Ghim reel off four birdies in a five-hole stretch. “I just kind of told myself to hang in there and you’ll get your turn to get some of it back.”
By the time they reached the 13th tee, Niebrugge got it all back. The Mequon, Wis., native won the eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th holes – the last three with birdies.
“I knew that he was going to be the real deal,” Ghim said. “I was 4 up, and he got all the way back to all square. That says a lot.”
Ghim was equally resilient. He kept Niebrugge from taking the lead at the par-3 13th with a difficult par save from tall rough right of the green. Ghim regained the lead with a 15-foot birdie at No. 14, but Niebrugge pulled even at the par-4 15th by nearly driving the green to set up a birdie.
Niebrugge’s competitive gumption was on full display a few holes later at No. 18. With Ghim in with a par, Niebrugge hit a poor putt from the back fringe that left him with a downhill 10-footer to extend the match.
The putt trickled toward the hole and dropped in on the left side to send the match to extra holes.
“I didn’t watch,” Ghim said. “It’s too nerve-racking to watch. I heard the crowd, and then I saw the ball not moving, and then it dropped. I thought, ‘OK. That’s what I expected.’”
Ghim escaped defeat on the 20th hole with a par at No. 11 after his drive landed in thick rough and his second shot was hindered by a cottonwood tree. He pitched his third to within eight feet from in front of the green and made the putt.
Three holes later, Ghim earned the victory at the 481-yard 14th after hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker. With Niebrugge safely in the fairway, Ghim’s second shot clipped tall grass in front of the bunker and stopped 80 yards short of the green. Niebrugge’s approach settled near the front fringe, but he hit his chip too hard after Ghim’s third landed hole high.
When Ghim’s winning putt disappeared into the hole, he and his father and caddie, Jeff, punched the air in victory.
“I was just trying to get myself inside of 10 feet,” Ghim said. “I knew I had a chance with a putt. I just had no idea Jordan was going to chip it nine or 10 feet by.”
There continued to be little drama for Gellerman, an Oklahoma senior and the lone remaining Kansan in the field. After defeating Patrick Beyhan 4 and 3 in his second-round match Thursday morning, Gellerman eliminated 43-year-old Floridian Jon Veneziano 3 and 2.
Gellerman has flourished on the middle holes at Sand Creek. From Nos. 9-13 – a stretch of 15 holes in three matches – Gellerman has won 11.
“It’s huge because it puts a lot of pressure on the other guy to start pushing, start pressing,” Gellerman said. “In match play, that’s what you want to make the other guy do.”
Honolulu teenager John Oda, 43-year-old reinstated amateur Jess Bonneau and SMU junior Bryson DeChambeau also advanced to the quarterfinals. With the field down to eight, the opportunity for Gellerman to become the first Kansan to win the APL since Wichita’s Monty Kaser in 1966 becomes greater.
“I guess I try not to think about it,” Gellerman said. “It’s exciting, though. It’s very intense. I try to keep to myself out there. But who knows? A couple more good days, and it could be awesome.”