LOS ANGELES – Doug Ghim was firmly in control of his Round of 16 match Thursday when he sailed his drive into the right rough on Riviera’s 13th hole.
Sizing up his options, he determined that he needed to hook his 200-yard second shot up and around a row of trees. It was his only chance of holding a green that slopes severely from back to front and right to left.
Ghim’s father and caddie, Jeff, handed him a 5-iron.
“Too much,” Doug said.
Hooking a 5-iron, he explained, would de-loft the club too much and send his ball screaming over the green. Instead, he asked for a 7-iron, and he ripped the shot through the trees and onto the back edge of the green.
Watching in awe, Jeff Ghim approached his son, cupped his face in his hands and laughed.
“Holy moly,” Jeff said later. “Amazing!”
This is likely Doug Ghim’s final U.S. Amateur appearance before he turns pro next summer, and the 21-year-old is cherishing every moment alongside the man who has played a multitude of roles in his life.
After growing up in South Korea, Jeff didn’t pick up a club until he was about 30. Instantly he was hooked, and it took him only six months to become a single-digit handicap. Jeff harbored ambitions of playing professionally until he woke up one morning and couldn’t move. Doctors later determined that he needed a laminectomy, his first of three back surgeries. These days, he only plays sparingly.
With his pro dreams dashed, Jeff focused on teaching the game to others. His most promising student became his only son, Doug.
Three months after he first started hitting balls, and only after promising to quit baseball so he didn’t mix two wildly different swings, Doug, then 6, won his first tournament – in the 10-12 age division.
“Maybe this boy was meant to play golf,” Jeff said.
But the family fell on hard times, and Doug’s parents couldn’t afford to buy him a junior membership or enter him in any tournaments near their home in Arlington Heights, Ill., about 40 minutes northwest of Chicago.
So they improvised. Jeff built his son a hitting bay in the backyard. For years, all Doug knew were the afternoon sessions beating balls into a tennis net three feet away.
“In hindsight, it was probably the best thing for me,” Doug said. “I’d beg my dad to let me play tournaments, but there was no pressure of winning. I practiced because I loved it, and it was all about my growth. That was an advantage for me. That’s why I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder to get better.”
A few years later, the Ghims took full advantage of The Arboretum Club’s twilight rates. Most afternoons, Doug would change into golf clothes before his final class of the day, and his dad would be waiting outside with the rest of the parents, his passenger-side door already open.
They’d speed to the course and play 18 as quick as they could, making pit stops only to hit pitch shots around the 17th green or fish Pro V1s out of the pond.
The AJGA offers an ACE Grant program to families in need of financial assistance, and Doug took full advantage of those extra playing opportunities, rising to No. 5 in the high school class of 2014 when he committed to play at Texas.
But arriving in Austin, and competing against players who grew up in the TrackMan era, was an eye-opening experience.
“I didn’t grow up with a range. I had so much to learn,” Doug said. “That’s why I’ve seen the improvement that I have over the past couple of years, learning how to effectively practice and what works for me.”
Indeed, Ghim has become one of the most consistent college players over the past three years, and last season he earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors. The Longhorns senior is currently ranked No. 7 in the world.
Ghim has enjoyed plenty of success in USGA events, too. He reached the semifinals of the 2013 U.S. Junior. He lost in the finals of the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links (with a Masters berth on the line), when he blocked his tee shot out of bounds on the final hole and eventually lost in a playoff. And now he has reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Riviera.
His dad is the only swing coach Doug has ever had, and one of the only caddies he has used in these amateur tournaments.
Doesn’t that dynamic ever get awkward?
“No,” Jeff said, “he’s a really good boy.”
Well, there were a few incidents …
Jeff said there was one six-month period when father and son butted heads.
“Puberty,” he said with a smile.
And Doug said he was playing in a junior tournament once when he went for a par 5 in two, found the water, and looked over to see his dad kicking the base of a tree in frustration. Later, when he saw his dad limping, Doug smiled and said, “What’s wrong?”
“Ah,” Jeff said, shaking it off, “I must have stepped on something wrong.”
Oh, and there was that time they accidentally swapped wedges. Jeff receives all of Doug’s hand-me-downs, and somehow an old 60-degree wedge – the shaft was about 15 grams lighter – found its way back into Doug’s bag before the start of the Trans-Miss Amateur. Doug spent the first round avoiding 100-yard shots and shot 7 over.
“It’s fun to have him on the ride,” he said. “He knows me better than anyone. I know him. We have a lot of chemistry, so there’s no awkwardness.
“But the disadvantage is that it’s family. We both want it so bad, and he arguably wants it more than I do. But we ride this rollercoaster together. When it gets going in the wrong direction, sometimes it’s tough, as you can imagine. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
This week at the U.S. Amateur, Jeff has expertly played the role of dutiful caddie. He judges the wind. He reads every putt. And he celebrates enthusiastically, bumping fists and hollering, “Let’s go!” and “Yes!” and “That’s what I’m talking about!” after his son makes birdie.
When Doug closed out his Round of 16 opponent, Joey Vrzich, 3 and 2, Jeff held his boy tight and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“After I started in golf, that was my dream,” Jeff said. “And now he does that for me. He does my dream. When I walk with him in the fairway, I’m most happy.”
Jeff turns 58 on Sunday, and Doug still hasn’t found him a gift.
Then it hit him.
“It’s tall and shiny and has lots of names on it,” he said.
Yes, for this father-son team, the Havemeyer Trophy would make the perfect present.