This golfer makes it through
Appeal Sports Writer
Dillon Dougherty had to play the waiting game for nearly two hours on Friday afternoon.
Dougherty, the former Woodland High and Northwestern University golf star, had just shot a 4-under-par 68 to finish with a 5-under-par 283 in the final round of the PGA Stage 1 qualifier at Dayton Valley Golf Club.
Now, the hard part started. Dougherty grabbed a quick sandwich in the restaurant and emerged on the patio with a cold beer. He alternately sat and stood, watching intently as each score was posted, mentally doing the math and juggling numbers in his head.
He talked on the phone quite a bit, keeping his friends and family posted. When he knew he was in, in fact he and Shad Muth tied for the last qualifying spot, he was wearing an ear-to-ear smile. His first qualifier and he made it. Not too shabby.
Unlike many of the players at Dayton, Dougherty was forced to play in a pre-qualifying tournament just to advance to Stage 1 qualifying. The PGA added the extra tournament to weed out some players that probably didn’t belong.
“I played bad the first round (at pre-qualifying),” said Dougherty, who was Northwestern’s top player the past two years. “It wasn’t like a normal tournament. Just because people aren’t out here watching, doesn’t mean it isn’t nerve wracking. You still know you have to make that 5-foot putt or there is a chance you won’t move on to the next tournament.”
Now, Dougherty has two weeks to fine-tune his game before Stage 2 qualifying, another four-round test of survival. He’s looking to keep improving as he’s done the last three or four years.
“I’ve always been a pretty good putter,” Dougherty said. “I’ve been working on making everything else better. The last three or four years, I’ve been trying to make my swing simpler and tighter.
“The key is getting to the final stage. If I make it there, at least I get conditional Nationwide Tour status.”
If you don’t follow amateur golf, Dougherty’s name might not stand out. He brought some impressive credentials to Dayton, and certainly backed them up.
He won the 2006 Ben Hogan Award for the top Division I golfer, and played in both the Masters and the U.S. Open. He was a second-team all-Big Ten selection, averaging a shade over 74 strokes per round.
Not bad for a guy who admitted he got a helping hand from a former high school rival to get into Northwestern.
“Tim Johnson convinced the coach to take me,” Dougherty said. “They gave me a scholarship without seeing me play. I was ready to go to Stanford or Oklahoma. Things worked out well. I loved Northwestern.”
Dougherty’s biggest accomplishment outside of playing in the two aforementioned majors came in the summer before the 2005-06 season.
The 5-foot-10 Dougherty reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur tournament, losing to Italy’s Eduardo Molinari, 4 and 3 in the finals. Dougherty was 3-up after 18 holes, but Molinari birdied seven of the next 15 holes to win it.
Dougherty had reached the final by beating J.C. Deacon in the semifinals with tremendous play on the final two holes.
On the 17th, he chipped in from off the green, and on the 18th, Dougherty hooked his second shot, hitting the NBC announcer’s booth. He received a drop and then hit the pin from 50 yards out. Deacon conceded Dougherty the short putt, but was unable to get down to halve the hole.
The semifinal win earned him a spot in both Grand Slam events.