Next stop for Doug Ghim: The Masters

Every Masters golf tournament is special, but next week’s 82nd version will have even more so because Doug Ghim will be playing.

Ghim, from Arlington Heights, is a senior at the University of Texas who received a Masters invitation because he was the runner-up in last August’s U.S. Amateur. He’s one of six amateurs among the 88 invitees that emcompass the world’s best players.

Rarely has an Illinois amateur played in the Masters, first of the year’s four major championships. There were only two before Ghim. Bill Hoffer, a life-long amateur from Elgin, got into the field in 1983 after winning the previous year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships at Lake Forest’s Knollwood Club. Rockford’s Brad Benjamin was invited after his victory in the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links tournament.

Benjamin wouldn’t get in via the same method now because the U.S. Golf Association discontinued its Public Links event. Like Hoffer, Benjamin didn’t come close to surviving the 36-hole cut in his appearance at Augusta National.

Ghim comes to Augusta during a solid senior season at Texas, a long-time collegiate powerhouse. He has the low stroke average for the Longhorns, 69.90 in seven tournaments. In October he won the Golf Club of Georgia tournament and last week, in his last start, he closed with a 67 for a sixth-place finish in the Valspar Invitational in Palm City, Fla.

Though he attended Buffalo Grove High School Ghim has played virtually all his competitive golf far from his home town. That was a decision Doug and his father, golf teacher and frequent caddie Jeff made long ago – after Ghim’s freshman year at Buffalo Grove. He finished third in the Illinois high school tournament that year and never played in another prep event.

The Ghims, still Arlington Heights residents, felt that Doug’s golf development would be best served by playing in top-level junior events around the country. They also felt it wouldn’t be fair to his high school team if he skipped many of its competitions.

Jeff Ghim got his son started in golf when he was 6 years old. Jeff had wanted to be a professional golfer, but three back surgeries ended that dream. He saw considerable promise in his son, however. Unable to afford the private clubs in the Chicago area, the Ghims played the more affordable public courses when twi-light rates were available. They weren’t above fishing golf balls out of water hazards at times, either,

“I’m sure there was financial stress, but I think more than anything he wanted to see if I actually loved the game,’’ said Doug. Obviously he wanted to stick with the game. That’s why he went to Texas in the first place.

“I always felt pretty underrated,’’ said Ghim. “My decision to go to Texas was because I was going to be associating with incredible golfers. I knew every day I’d have to put my name and game up against theirs.’’

During his senior season Ghim held the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings at one point. He was also able to play ultra-private Augusta National three times with his Texas teammates even before he earned his Masters invite. He’ll go into next week’s tournament far better prepared than Hoffer and Benjamin were when they got their chance.

Drive, Chip & Putt finalist

The finals of the PGA of America’s Drive, Chip & Putt competition provides an unofficial kickoff to Masters week and Naperville’s Andrew Lim, 13, is among the 80 finalists. He’ll compete for the title in the Boys 12-13 division on Sunday, the day before the invitees begin their practice rounds.

Andrew survived a local qualifier at Cantigny, in Wheaton, a sub-regional at Cog Hill in Lemont and a regional at The Honors course in Tennessee to earn his place in the nationally televised finals.

His family plays out of Naperville Country Club where Andrew carries an 8.2 handicap index. He has shot 33 for nine holes and 73 for 18.

Here and there

The usual shifts in the club professional ranks included one major one this year. Alex Mendez, long-time head man at Butterfield in Oak Brook, has taken over at Royal Fox, in St. Charles. Other new head pros include Carson Solien at Oak Park, Andrew Stevens at Stonebridge in Aurora, David Thompson at Crystal Lake, Matt Gebhardt at Calumet in Homewood and Brent Regis at Valley Lo in Glenview.

Most of the Chicago area public courses are open now, or will soon be accepting players. The major exception is Sunset Valley, in Highland Park. It’s undergoing a $7 million renovation of both its course and clubhouse and won’t be ready for play until late summer.

The Golf Scene, hosted by Steve Kashul on NBC Sports Chicago, is entering its 25th season and will soon be included in the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications. The museum calls Golf Scene the longest-airing golf television show in the U.S. and second-longest show currently on Chicago television.