In U.S. Am, Ghim avenges his most painful defeat

By Ryan LavnerAugust 19, 2017, 10:37 pm

LOS ANGELES – They should have celebrated like this three years ago – with fist pumps and hugs and cries of “Masters! Masters! We’re going to the Masters!”

In the summer of 2014, with his father, Jeff, on the bag, Doug Ghim stood on the final tee with a 1-up lead in the U.S. Amateur Public Links. The incoming freshman at Texas was about 400 yards from victory and a spot in the Masters … and then he pumped his tee shot out of bounds and made double bogey. He lost to Byron Meth on the first playoff hole.

Ghim’s explanation that day at Sand Creek?

“Nerves,” he said. “I’d just never been in this position before. But next time, I’ll be ready.”

And so here he was Saturday, in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Riviera, with a 4-up lead over Theo Humphrey with five holes to play.

Then Ghim lost the 14th hole with a bogey. Then he lost the 16th, too, after another bogey. And now, after bashing his birdie putt 6 feet past on the par-5 17th, he needed to calm himself down. He patted his chest, hoping to slow down his heart rate, and stared down at the green, taking two deep breaths.

“So many thoughts in your head are going at that moment,” he said. “I’ve got a little bit of demons.”

None worse than his collapse at the Publinx.

The day after blowing the tournament, Doug and his family made the 11-hour drive from Newton, Kan., to Chicago, singing songs and stopping at a rest area for a picnic. “It’s OK,” he told his dad. “I’ve got plenty of time.”

But over the next few months, the loss began to gnaw at him.

Teams that play in Augusta State’s college tournament the week before the Masters receive one-day practice-round tickets, and so all of the Longhorns made their way inside the gates in the spring of 2015.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

They toured the Crow’s Nest, the Masters’ amateur quarters, which could have been Ghim’s home that week.

“I don’t really want to be in here,” he said. 

So he and his teammates ventured out to the eighth tee, to catch up with one of the school’s most famous alums, Jordan Spieth. He was playing with another star, Rory McIlroy. And there was a third player in the group, too.

“Oh, no,” Texas assistant Jean-Paul Hebert said.

Ghim squinted and saw the standard.

Byron Meth.

The player who took advantage of Ghim’s final-hole meltdown at the Publinx.

“This is what I could have been doing,” Ghim said. “This sucks.”

Sensing the awkwardness, Ghim’s teammates steered him to other parts of the course and then toward the range at the end of the day.

The first player they saw there: Meth.

“Don’t worry about it,” one of Ghim’s teammates told him. “You’re going to be back here one day.”

Ghim needed to look no further than Spieth for inspiration.

Four years earlier, Spieth had reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Amateur but kicked away the match late on the back nine. When he made the team’s annual trip to Augusta the next spring, he was miserable.

“Coach,” he said, “this is not the way I envisioned being here the first time. I’m going to try to enjoy it, but this really hurts.”

“Doug experienced the same thing,” Longhorns coach John Fields says now. “To have one foot on Magnolia Lane and to have it taken away from you right there at the end, it was just incredible.”

And the Ghims have been looking for closure ever since.

Earlier this summer, Doug, now a 21-year-old senior at Texas, played a casual round at Sand Creek for the first time since the ’14 APL. The 36-hole leaderboard – Ghim was co-medalist – was still hanging in the clubhouse. 

He shot 65 that day.

Reminders were everywhere Saturday, too. In the semifinals, with a Masters berth on the line, Doug wore a black Augusta National hat. His mom, Susan, sported a white bucket hat – with the Sand Creek logo.

“Some people when they have a bad tournament, they get upset and get rid of it,” Jeff Ghim said. “I wake him up. I said, ‘Look at this. You don’t want to do this again.’”

And so he didn’t. Facing a 6-footer for the victory, for a redemptive trip to Augusta, Doug took his father’s advice – “Wrap it up” – and stroked the winning putt, putting away Humphrey, 2 and 1. Three years of emotion poured out. 

“It was the first thing that popped in my head,” Doug said. “We’re going to the Masters.”

So is his finals opponent, Doc Redman, who needed a 13-for-8 playoff Wednesday morning just to advance to the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur. 

The rising sophomore at Clemson is arguably the hottest player in amateur golf. He recorded eight top-10s during his first season with the Tigers and earned two other high finishes in amateur events this summer before taking Norman Xiong to 22 holes in the Western Amateur final.

Playing 145 competitive holes over five days against one of the toughest fields helped convince Redman, 19, that he belonged among the game’s elite. So he didn’t fret earlier this week when it appeared as though his 4-over total might not be good enough to advance. He hung out at the beach. Went to a Dodgers game, too.

“I knew if I could get in match play,” he said, “then it would be a reset button and I would be OK.”

Unlike Ghim, who has played the 18th hole only once this week, Redman has gone down to the wire in four of his five matches.

Saturday’s semifinal against little-known Mark Lawrence Jr. was no different, after Lawrence won the 16th with a par and the par-5 17th with a 20-foot eagle. But Lawrence made a critical error on the home hole, three-putting from just off the back of the 18th green to hand Redman the match.

Was the Masters on his mind?

“Didn’t even think about it,” Redman shrugged.

His reaction was more muted, and perhaps that was to be expected. Afterward, he couldn’t single out an obstacle he’s overcome in his life. He has never suffered a loss as crushing as Ghim’s.

“I’m so happy for Doug,” Fields said, “because there’s been some pain associated with where he’s been.”

There is still so much to play for Sunday – the trophy and the prestige and the exemptions.

But for one family, a dream has already been realized, a painful chapter of their lives now complete.

The Ghims are going to the Masters, together, and it’ll be worth the three-year wait.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.