Ideally, the path to a United States Golf Association championship is filled with steady play and countless fairways, greens and birdies.
When it’s not, a golfer has to rely on resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance – things that 18-year-old Doug Ghim summoned Friday to extend his stay at Sand Creek Station Golf Course.
Shaken by a 15-minute delay to the start of the U.S. Amateur Public Links semifinals, Ghim quickly fell behind local favorite Michael Gellerman of Sterling. Still trailing by three holes with six to play, the future University of Texas player finally turned the tide, rallying to defeat Gellerman 1 up to advance to Saturday’s 36-hole championship match against fellow stroke-play co-medalist and Pacific senior Byron Meth.
Ghim, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., and Meth, of San Diego, will decide the 89th and final Public Links champion beginning at 7 a.m. The USGA is retiring the championship, which debuted in 1922, after Saturday’s match.
Ghim, who hadn’t trailed in any of the 69 holes he played in his first four matches, didn’t lead Gellerman until the 21-year-old Oklahoma senior conceded on the 18th green after he missed a par putt. Ghim was awaiting a short birdie attempt set up by a perfectly struck approach shot from 167 yards.
“It’s probably the most important one so far,” Ghim said of his knockdown 6-iron into a stiff breeze. “I’ve hit a lot of great shots. But that one, to grind it out – especially from three down – and to win in regulation was huge.”
It was an interesting journey to get to that point for Ghim, who reached the semifinals by defeating Honolulu teenager John Oda 3 and 2 in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. Moments before the start of his match with Gellerman, a USGA official told the competitors the match was being delayed 15 minutes.
“We just had some administrative things we needed to clear up,” championship chairman Bill Fallon said.
Ghim’s father and caddie, Jeff, said the championship committee was checking his family’s relationship with a Chicago-area country club. The APL is restricted to public-course players.
Jeff Ghim is an independent golf instructor who has given lessons at The Grove Country Club in Long Grove, Ill. He said his son has played there as a guest with friends who hold a membership there.
In the semifinal, Doug Ghim hit his tee shot on the par-4 first into the water and lost the hole. When he three-putted the par-5 second for a bogey, Gellerman was 2 up.
“Not a great start,” Ghim said. “But I did my best to stay in it as much as possible.”
A birdie at the par-3 third temporarily halted Ghim’s swoon. But his struggles followed him all the way to the par-4 12th, where Ghim drove into tall rough near the green, unsuccessfully tried to hack out on his second shot and lost the hole with a bogey to go three down with six holes remaining.
“At that moment in the match, it just felt like things were starting to fall away,” Ghim said.
But Gellerman, who outlasted Louisville sophomore Robert Geibel 1 up in the quarters, couldn’t deliver the knockout.
Gellerman missed the green with his tee shot at the par-3 13th, and failed to save par from a downhill lie to lose the hole. He also lost the 14th after missing the fairway with his drive, then allowed Ghim to pull even after driving into a fairway bunker on the 498-yard 16th.
“It was really tough the way I was hitting it,” Gellerman said of trying to maintain the lead. “I don’t know if I hit very many greens on the back, probably only a couple.
“It’s hard playing when you’re hitting it in the junk about every hole and not hitting greens. Yeah, it’s going to slip away.”
It did on the par-4 18th. Gellerman’s tee shot left him with a long approach that settled on a hill right of the green. Seconds later, Ghim laced his second shot to the upper tier of the green, where the pin was located. When Gellerman pitched from a thigh-high lie to eight feet, then missed the putt, Ghim’s comeback was complete.
Next up is a battle with Meth, who won eight of 13 holes in his semifinal victory against 43-year-old Houston resident Jess Bonneau. Meth and Ghim posted the low qualifying total of 8-under 134 along with UNLV’s Zane Thomas and USC’s Rico Hoey at the start of the six-day event.
Ghim said to get there, he drew on the experience of Wednesday’s 23-hole third-round victory over 2013 APL champion Jordan Niebrugge, which he won after surrendering a 4-up lead.
“To have that to feed off of – except I was playing the role of Niebrugge in this one – I saw that it was possible, and it really helped,” Ghim said.
No. 41 Michael Gellerman, Sterling, def. No. 16 Robert Geibel, Pembroke Pines, Fla., 1 up; No. 4 Doug Ghim, Arlington Heights, Ill., 3 and 2; No. 55 Jess Bonneau, Houston, def. No. 2 Rico Hoey, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., 5 and 3; No. 3 Byron Meth, San Diego, def. No. 27 Bryson DeChambeau, Clovis, Calif., 1 up.
No. 4 Doug Ghim def. No. 41 Michael Gellerman 1 up; No. 3 Byron Meth def. No. 55 Jess Bonneau 6 and 5.
Saturday’s Championship (36 holes)
No. 4 Doug Ghim, Arlington Heights, Ill., vs. No. 3 Byron Meth, San Diego.