SILVIS, IL. – Being a rookie on the PGA Tour isn’t easy. Doug Ghim, who got to golf’s premier circuit after growing up in Arlington Heights, is making headway and Thursday’s first round of the John Deere Classic provided proof of that.
Ghim came into the JDC with $1,152,732 in season winnings and had made 16 cuts in 23 starts. While his standing in the Official World Golf Rankings was only No. 217, he is No. 81 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup race. That pretty much assures he’ll be in the lucrative postseason playoffs.
A 5-under-par bogey-free 66 certainly didn’t hurt Ghim’s cause on Thursday. He enters today’s second round three shots behind co-leaders Sebastian Munoz, from Colombia, and Chesson Hadley.
Ghim is in a five-way tie for seventh place. Chez Reavie, Camilo Villegas are one stroke behind the leaders and Ryan Moore, the tourney’s 2016 champion, is another stroke back. Joining Ghim at 5-under are Luke List, Kevin Tway, Cameron Champ and Michael Gellerman.
While he attended Buffalo Grove High School, Ghim didn’t play much golf in Illinois his his amateur days. He preferred to play a nationwide schedule of American Junior Golf Assn. events instead and it paid off when he starred at the University of Texas, finished as runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Amateur and was low amateur at the 2018 Masters.
In fact, Ghim played in the John Deere Classic only once, and that wasn’t a happy experience. He got into the 2018 JDC on sponsor’s invitation and, after shooting a first-round 73, he withdrew with a case of food poisoning. That made this tournament more special.
“We don’t have many chances to play in my home state, so I always relish the opportunity to be here,’’ said Ghim. “I’ve been circling this one on the calendar for awhile.’’
The good start was encouraging, but Ghim was hardly giddy about it.
“It’s a little too early to be talking about the lead, or anything like that,’’ he said. “Scores are always low here, and I’ll have to keep the pedal down.’’
He’s contended several times, most notably in The Players Championship when he was paired with eventual champion Justin Thomas in the final pairing on Sunday. Ghim struggled to a 78 and finished tied for 29th.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make it a real good year,’’ he said. “I’ve had a lot of growing pains, but considering where I started from last year, it’s a huge improvement. I’ve learned a lot.’’
One of the tournament’s most popular players, Steve Stricker, is in danger of missing today’s 36-hole cut. He opened with a 1-under 70.
Stricker is a legend in this PGA Tour stop, which is three hours from his Wisconsin home. He won the JDC three straight times, from 2009 to 2011. He’s won more money in the tournament than anyone else, and he was 186 strokes under par in his first 17 appearances in the tournament.
In this his 18th visit, though, he is 54 years old. Nobody else in the field has reached his 50th birthday. The oldest previous winner on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open, and that was three years before Stricker was born. Stricker wants to beat Snead’s record, and the bad first round won’t help.
“It was an early wakeup call,’’ said Stricker. “I’m not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play. I played like I was still asleep for awhile. Hopefully I can come back tomorrow and put up a good number.’’
In addition to being the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Stricker is a PGA Champions Tour mainstay now – and he’s been a good one.
Last year he won the U.S. Senior Open, and he won another Champions’ major in his last start, taking the Bridgestone Senior Players at rugged Firestone two weeks ago by a whopping six strokes. After that he opted for a return to the JDC even though it conflicted with what would have been his title defense in the U.S. Senior Open.
“I wish they weren’t the exact same week, but I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Stricker. “It’s a special place for me and my family.’’