NEWTON, Kan. – John Oda ended his week at Sand Creek Station Golf Course the way began it – playing with Doug Ghim.
Good friends who met at the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H., the pair played a practice round prior to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Several days later, Ghim defeated Oda, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinal round.
This was the first time we actually played together in a tournament, said Oda. This week, we were saying to each other, ‘Go for it. Play well, and we’ll meet in the quarterfinals.’ It’s difficult, but he’s such a great player. I have such respect for him.
The match was competitive from the start, with both players making birdies on the first hole. Ghim won the next two holes, and each player won two holes from the fourth to the 15th, enabling Ghim to retain a 2-up lead on the 16th tee.
The round was marked by a high level of play, with Ghim making six birdies and no bogeys in 16 holes. Normally a strategist who carefully weighs the risks and rewards of every shot, Ghim felt he had to take chances because of the pressure applied by Oda.
I had to be aggressive, said Ghim, because John had been striping it all day.
It was Oda’s turn to be aggressive on the 16th hole, and he hit his approach putt from the front of the two-tiered green too far past the hole. When he missed the comebacker, giving Ghim the match, a hugfest broke out. The players embraced each other; Ghim hugged his father and caddie, Jeff; Oda hugged his father, Jay; the fathers hugged each other; and all the Ghims – Doug’s mother, Susan, and his sister, Deborah, who were following the match – hugged each other.
As they were walking off the green, Jay wanted a photo of the two competitors as a keepsake of the Odas’ visit to Kansas. Ghim, who is headed to the University of Texas in the fall, posed with the Hook ’em Horns with his right hand, while Oda, who is from Honolulu, gave the shaka (hang loose) sign that is native to Hawaii with his left hand.
Then there were other photos with members of both families. The scene more closely resembled a wedding photo session than a national championship.
While this was the first time Ghim and Oda played together in competition, it likely won’t be the last. While Ghim is matriculating at Texas, Oda is headed to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he is looking forward to more national competition.
Because of the cost of travel from Hawaii to the mainland, Oda’s playing schedule has been limited. This summer, for example, he has played in just two high-profile events: the Public Links and last month’s Sunnehanna Amateur in Johnstown, Pa., where he tied for sixth, beating Ghim by six strokes.
It’s hard for guys from Hawaii to get exposure, said Oda. That kind of holds us back. This is my last one for the summer before I start school on August 25. I’m just going to enjoy the islands back home, hanging out with friends.
Oda hung around after his loss to watch Ghim’s semifinal match against local favorite Michael Gellerman, and was one of the few among the 50 or so spectators newsContenting for Ghim.
But like any competitor, Oda was not satisfied with just watching.
I hate being on a golf course and not playing, he said.
On the eighth hole, Oda relieved the standard bearer for a while and carried the scoring standard down the fairway. He then called to get the attention of Ghim, who laughed at seeing his friend.
That was a great drive, Oda said to Ghim. Knock it close.
Ghim, of course, did so and made birdie, on his way to earning a spot in the final against Byron Meth.
Hunki Yun is the director of strategic projects for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.