Ghim may be closing in on his first PGA Tour victory

Doug Ghim is making progress as a PGA Tour rookie, no doubt about that.

The 24-year old who grew up in Arlington Heights and attended Buffalo Grove High School before graduating from the University of Texas made the cut in five of his six tournaments in 2020, his best finish being a tie for 14th in the Bermuda Championship.

Most of the top players  competed only spaaringly in those fall events of the PGA’s wrap-around 2020-21 season, but Ghim has been up to their challenge in the 2021 events. In the first seven of those he made the cut in five and had his best finish – a tie for fifth in the American Express Championship in January.

The last two weeks have been more revealing, however.

While his finishes haven’t been great Ghim has learned what it’s like at the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard.  He made it to that lofty position in the third round of both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.  His time at the top in both Florida stops was limited, but at least he got there.

Now Ghim’s problem is staying in contention. Getting in the hunt on “moving day’’ hasn’t been a problem, but finishing the job in Sunday’s final round has.

In the API at Bay Hill he was leading for only a few minutes, and in last week’s Players he was in command for only a few holes. At Bay Hill he got into contention by shooting a 65 in the third round but followed it with  a horrendous 81 in the final round.  The result? A drop of 29 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 36th.

The strongest field of the season was on hand last week at The Players, and Ghim came charging on Saturday with a 68 after shooitng a 67 on Friday . He gained the lead on the 14th hole before surrendering it before the day was out to Lee Westwood, the runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill.

Ghim wound up with Justin Thomas as his final round playing partner.  They went off in front of the final twosome – DeChambeau and Westwood.  The moment was not lost on Ghim.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m 257th in the world (rankings),’’ Ghim told the media members gathered around him after the pairings were announced.  “To be associated with that (leaderboard pairing) is an honor and it’s a dream come true.  It’s definitely something that I always thought I could get to, and I’m just grateful to have the chance.’’

The next day Ghim learned, again, how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.  He shot 78 and dropped 26 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 29th.

His two runs at the top of the leaderboard helped Ghim enjoy good paydays –$42,981 at Bay Hill and $96,125 at The Players – but the checks could have been much larger had Ghim held his game together when the pressure was the greatest.

Ghim didn’t look ahead after he held sole possession of the lead with four holes left in Round 3 at The Players.

“My goal was to get to the clubhouse, post a good number, be around the lead,’’ said Ghim.. “ Having the lead is great but it really, really doesn’t matter until you walk off the 18th hole (with it on Sunday).’’

While most of the tournaments on the PGA Tour have been played without fans, there were noticeable galleries the last two weeks. Ghim, whose parents are from Korea, was paired South Korea’s Sungjae Im the first rwo rounds.

“There was some confusion of who was who when I  played with Sungjae, and that was pretty funny,’’ said Ghim, “but it was great to have the fans back.  It was great to have my first Players be with fans.  It’s just not quite the same experience without a fan base.’’

A year ago The Players event was canceled after the first round when pandemic concerns exploded. More fans will likely know who Ghim is this week when the circuit moves to another Florida stop — the Honda Classic, at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.

As was the case after Bay Hill, Ghim took Sunday’s final round struggles in stride and felt he learned something watching playing partner Thomas  come from behind to grab the victory.  He congratulated Thomas in a tweet after the tournament.

“It was an honor to see it unfold, and can’t wait to draw back on the experience.  Looking forward to being in a similar experience soon,’’ tweeted Ghim.

For the first time this season three Chicago PGA Tour players – Ghim, Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald  — will be in the same event.