While every Masters golf tournament is special, next week’s 82nd version will mean even more to Chicago golf fans as Doug Ghim will be playing.
Ghim, an Arlington Heights native and senior at the University of Texas, received a Masters invitation after finishing as the runner-up last August in the U.S. Amateur. Five other amateurs are in the Masters field, which represents the world’s best players.
Rarely has an Illinois amateur played in the Masters, the first of the year’s four major championships. There have been only two before Ghim. Bill Hoffer, a lifelong amateur from Elgin, made the field in 1983 after winning the previous year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships at Lake Forest’s Knollwood Club. Rockford’s Brad Benjamin was invited after his victory in the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links tournament.
Benjamin wouldn’t get in via the same method now because the U.S. Golf Association discontinued its Public Links event. Like Hoffer, Benjamin didn’t come close to surviving the 36-hole cut in his appearance at Augusta National.
Ghim comes to Augusta during a solid senior season at Texas, a longtime collegiate powerhouse. He has the low stroke average for the Longhorns, 69.90 in seven tournaments. In October he won the Golf Club of Georgia tournament. Last week, he closed with a 67 for a sixth-place finish in the Valspar Invitational in Palm City, Fla.
Though he attended Buffalo Grove High School, Ghim has played almost all his competitive golf far from his hometown. That was a decision Doug and his father, golf teacher and frequent caddie Jeff Ghim, made after Ghim’s freshman year at BGHS. He finished third in the state tournament that year and never played in another prep event.
The Ghims, who still live in Arlington Heights, felt Doug’s golf development would be best served by playing top-level junior events around the country. They also believed it wouldn’t be fair to his high school team if he skipped so many of its competitions.
Jeff Ghim started his son in golf at 6 years old. Jeff had wanted to be a professional golfer, but three back surgeries ended that dream. He saw considerable promise in his son, however. Unable to afford the private clubs in the Chicago area, the Ghims played the more affordable public courses when twilight rates were available. They weren’t above fishing golf balls out of water hazards at times, either.
“I’m sure there was financial stress, but I think more than anything he wanted to see if I actually loved the game,” Doug said of his father.
Obviously Doug wanted to stick with the game, which is why he chose Texas.
“I always felt pretty underrated,” said Ghim. “My decision to go to Texas was because I was going to be associating with incredible golfers. I knew every day I’d have to put my name and game up against theirs.”
During his senior season Ghim held the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings at one point. He also was able to play Augusta National three times with his Texas teammates before he earned his Masters invite. He’ll go into next week’s tournament far better prepared than Hoffer and Benjamin were when they got their chance.
Drive, Chip & Putt finalist
The finals of the PGA of America’s Drive, Chip & Putt competition provides an unofficial kickoff to Masters week and Naperville’s Andrew Lim, 13, is among the 80 finalists. He’ll compete for the title in the Boys 12-13 division on Sunday, the day before the invitees begin their practice rounds.
Andrew survived a local qualifier in Wheaton at Cantigny, a subregional at Cog Hill in Lemont, and a regional at The Honors course in Tennessee to earn his place in the nationally televised finals.
His family plays out of Naperville Country Club, where Andrew carries an 8.2 handicap index. He has shot 33 for nine holes and 73 for 18.
Here and there:
The usual shifts in the club professional ranks included one major one this year. Alex Mendez, longtime head man at Butterfield in Oak Brook, has taken over at Royal Fox in St. Charles. Other new head pros include Carson Solien at Oak Park, Andrew Stevens at Stonebridge in Aurora, David Thompson at Crystal Lake, Matt Gebhardt at Calumet in Homewood and Brent Regis at Valley Lo in Glenview.
• Most of the Chicago area public courses are open now, or will soon be accepting players. The major exception is Sunset Valley in Highland Park. It’s undergoing a $7 million renovation of both its course and clubhouse and won’t be ready for play until late summer.
• The Golf Scene, hosted by Steve Kashul on NBC Sports Chicago, is entering its 25th season and will soon be included in the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications. The museum calls Golf Scene the longest-airing golf television show in the U.S. and second-longest show currently on Chicago television.
• For more golf news, visit lenziehmongolf.com.