Ghim's Match-Play Prowess Forged by Past Setbacks August 19, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Doug Ghim has used previous disappointments to enact a match-play strategy that is paying off this week at Riviera. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Doug Ghim has experienced the ebb and flow of match play, as well as the disappointment of seeing his dreams dashed. Those moments helped steady and steel him on Saturday as he battled Theo Humphrey for a berth in the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship’s 36-hole final.

“I had about a 9- or 10-foot putt for par on the first hole,” said Ghim, 21, who is entering his senior year at the University of Texas next week. “That putt set the tone for the match. If I miss that, it kind of hands him the keys to the match and lets him dictate it. And once I made an 18-footer for birdie on the third green, I felt like I wasn’t going to lose the match.”

Ghim was on the verge of winning a USGA championship once before, in 2014 in the final U.S. Amateur Public Links. He stood on the tee of the 36th hole with a 1-up lead, but blew his drive out of bounds and lost on the first playoff hole.

“The fact that he was in the [2014 APL final] probably helped him today more than anything, because he’d already dealt with that pressure,” said John Fields, Ghim’s coach at Texas the past three years. “He played so well that day, made so many good shots, but I remember him saying that he probably made a mistake by hitting driver on that tee. Today, he knew about the distractions, and he knew that they had no merit in this match.”

The berths in the U.S. Open and the Masters that come with being a U.S. Amateur finalist – the distractions that Fields alluded to – now belong to Ghim, because he was so tuned in to what he had to do to get past Humphrey in his 2-and-1 victory. But first he had to overcome a quick deficit on the second hole when he missed the green and made bogey.

“I hit two good shots on the second hole, so I wasn’t disappointed,” said Ghim. “I don’t like losing holes, but I was still pretty positive. If I’m going to make a bogey, it’s going to be with committed golf swings.”

The aforementioned birdie on No. 3 squared the match, and Ghim took a lead he would not relinquish with another birdie, on the par-3 sixth. He followed that up with a pitch-in for eagle on the short par-4 eighth to double his advantage, and he kept that 2-up margin by making a testing 6-footer for par on the 10th hole.

As he has played more matches, Ghim feels as though he is able to, as he puts it, “take the emotional or circumstantial pressure off the putt, and just think about the putt itself.”

“In match play, I feel like it’s a lot easier to look at a shot for what it actually is,” Ghim explained. “When you have a putt to halve a hole, there’s no uncertainty about it. It has to go in. It frees me up to look at it and say, what do I have here, I have a 6-foot putt and it must go in, so we’re going to do just that. In stroke play, you’re not just thinking about the shot, you’re also thinking about the next one.”

Ghim doubled his lead again on Nos. 11 and 12, but the challenge was far from finished against Humphrey, a 21-year-old from Greenwich, Conn., who is No. 42 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ to Ghim’s No. 7. Both players were bunkered on the par-3 14th, but Humphrey got up and down before Ghim missed for bogey. On the par-3 16th, Ghim’s tee shot bounded over the green, and he left his demanding bunker shot short of the putting surface for another bogey.

With his four-hole lead shrunk to two, Ghim was slipping as the match moved to No. 17, a 594-yard par 5. Or was he?

“Actually, it was a bit of an advantage to see him tee off first,” said Ghim, who watched Humphrey knock his drive into the right rough. “It’s really not that difficult a tee shot on paper, but for some reason I hit it out to the right in the fairway bunker quite a bit. Once he went right, I figured he probably wouldn’t have a shot at the green. I took a 3-wood instead so I could keep it short of the bunker.”

Humphrey’s view of the green for his second shot was partially blocked, and Ghim surmised correctly that Humphrey would not be able to go for the green in two.

“I don’t have the length to get it there in two, and even if I did, it’s an awkward shot because of the back-right pin [on Saturday],” said Ghim. “I just wanted to make sure I had an opportunity for a birdie to be able to put pressure on him. I wanted to basically send a message to him that you’re going to need birdie to win this hole, because I’m not going to give it to you. Everything was based off what he did off that tee.”

All that was left for Ghim was to make the clinching par putt, a comebacker after his shot from the back edge went 5½ feet past the hole.

“I’m a spot picker, so I said to myself, if you start it on this line, it will go in,” said Ghim. “I tried to make sure I stayed calm and didn’t make the putt more than what it was.”

It was for a lot of things, but those spoils were not on Ghim’s mind, and the putt went in dead-center.

“I’m so happy for Doug because he’s had some stingers,” said Fields. “The main thing we’ve seen over time in his growth as a player is his resiliency – it’s grown and grown. You’ve got to be tough if you’re going to play this game, because you’re going to take some body shots. The ones who are going to be successful are the ones who take those shots, get up off the ground and keep going, and he’s one of those guys.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the UGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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