Doug Ghim’s first Masters was something very special

Maybe a tie for 50th place doesn’t sound great – even if it came in golf’s hallowed Masters tournament. Maybe a 74-74 finish in the weekend rounds and an 8-over-par 296 score for the 72 holes wasn’t worthy of much wild cheering at Augusta National.

Make no mistake, though. What Doug Ghim did over four days in the first major golf championship of the year was something special — very special.

Very rarely do 21-year olds who are still in college get invited to the Masters. Ghim did via one of the last invitation criteria. He was the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera, a California course that has almost as rich in history as Augusta National.

Ghim lost the U.S. Amateur title to a younger Doc Redman in sudden death at Riviera. but Redman didn’t beat Ghim in the Masters. Neither did the other four amateurs in the field. Just getting to the Masters was a major accomplishment.

Only two other Illinois amateurs did it in the last 35 years and neither of them made the cut, much less contend for the coveted trophy given annually to the low amateur. Ghim departed Sunday with much more hardware than that. He also picked up crystal glasses for making three eagles. Every player who makes an eagle at the Masters gets a nice prize from the club. The most eagles made by one player in any Masters is four, and Ghim had his sites on that target entering Sunday’s final round.

He didn’t break the record, but he did have a spectacular finish, holing a bunker shot for birdie on his last whole of the tournament.

The rousing finish capped off a week in which Ghim finally earned the attention that was lacking during much of his amateur career. The low profile was partly Ghim’s fault. He played only one year of high school golf at Buffalo Grove and left Illinois for Texas for college golf. Most all of his pre-college tournaments were national junior events held around the country.

As a result, Ghim didn’t get the attention of pro tournament organizers when they were handing out sponsor exemptions to worthy amateurs. The Masters, in fact, was Ghim’s first PGA Tour event and he got through it without a veteran caddie’s guidance. His father (and swing coach) Jeff was on his bag.

Those unusual circumstances led to Golfweek magazine asking Ghim to write a daily blog off his experiences. While recounting the eagles was part of that writing exercise, the highlight was his third round pairing with Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters winner who has dominated the Champions Tour in recent years.

“I’ve played with so many nice people this week, and they really didn’t need to be,’’ said Ghim. “But Mr. Langer may have been the nicest guy that I’ve played with all week. He’s a very classy individual. He really appreciates good golf, and I could tell he appreciated my efforts as an amateur.’’

Langer even raked a bunker for Ghim.

“A Masters champion is raking your footprints. That was the funny highlight of the day,’’ said Ghim.

Ghim, who turns 22 next week, regretted missing the Western Intercollegiate college tournament to play in the Masters. His Longhorns’ teammates have their biggest events still ahead, however. That’s how he looked at it while accepting his trophy with overall champion Patrick Reed in the traditional presentation ceremony in Butler Cabin, which adjoins the Augusta National course.

“Now I’d like to help my team to a national championship, like Patrick Reed did twice (when he was attending Augusta State, a collegiate powerhouse located in the same Georgia town as Augusta National),’’ said Ghim.

Ghim figures to delay turning pro at least until after June’s U.S. Open. He has an exemption to that event off his U.S. Amateur showing as well.

Very soon after that Ghim will join the professional ranks where his chances of success seem very good. Matching the excitement of being low amateur in his first Masters, though, will be hard to beat.

“That is probably the most honorable thing that I’ve done as a golfer,’’ he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play on a Walker Cup team, a Palmer Cup team, on a national championship with my (Texas) team and finish second at the U.S. Amateur but to be (in the Masters) and play against the best players in the world is definitely a confidence boost moving forward.’’