Major memories for Suffolk golfer

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sean Dougherty, here on Atlanta Athletic Club’s No. 16 during the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, shot a pair of 74s in his two rounds in the major championship. Dougherty graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk in 1997 and is the head PGA professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kan. | Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America

Playing in the PGA Championship was every bit the test Sean Dougherty thought it would be.

“The course was extremely difficult, probably — no, it was the most difficult course I’ve ever played,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty, a Nansemond-Suffolk grad in 1997 and now the head PGA professional at Milburn Country Club near Kansas City, Kan., shot two 74s in the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club last week.

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Despite the fine rounds, considering the venue and pressure, Dougherty missed the cut on Friday.

Even with an outcome that didn’t match his goals, Dougherty’s first time in a major tournament was as memorable as any golfer could imagine.

Dougherty’s wife, son and about 15 more family members made the trip to Johns Creek, Ga. Between Kansas and old friends from the East Coast, about 25 friends traveled to support him, as well.

“That made it really great, really fun,” Dougherty said of his personal gallery.

“My first goal was to make the cut. Then my goal from there was to win. It didn’t happen, but I treated it like any other tournament,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty made the PGA Championship as one of 20 club or teaching professionals who finished atop the PGA Professional National Championship in Hershey, Penn., in June. One of the 20 non-touring pros made the cut and played all four rounds at the PGA Championship.

Dougherty was within striking distance of continuing on to Saturday and Sunday late in his second round before dropping a couple more shots to par in his final few holes.

“The course was difficult in the respect there were some spots you could make errors, but they were very limited. Just about any mistake cost you in a big way,” Dougherty said.

Any shot missing the fairway meant a serious effort to save par. On one hand, accurate driving played into a part of the game Dougherty counts as a strength.

The misses though, Dougherty said, seemingly led to larger problems every time. In Thursday’s opening round, three double-bogeys outweighed two birdies.

For example, on No. 6, one of the shorter par fours on the course, Dougherty missed to the left off the tee and it led to one of the double bogeys.

“I got greedy with my next shot and put it in the water. It wasn’t the shot I should’ve hit,” he said.

While remaining busy with his day job at Milburn between qualifying for the PGA Championship and playing in it, Dougherty said he had plenty of solid preparation.

Part of his practice was keeping his chances alive for the 2012 PGA Championship. Dougherty advanced through sectional qualifying for next year’s PGA Professional National Championship.

“I played the same way there that I wanted to play (at the PGA Championship), smart, no mistakes, making as many pars as I could,” Dougherty said.

“I played a good tournament, but it was hard to replicate conditions I’d never played in before,” he said.

One of Dougherty’s best friends caddied for him and helped a great deal with the three days of practice rounds, the three days leading up to the tournament, at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

“We felt good about how to play the course. We had the speed of the greens down pretty well. Really it was three or four shots that cost me from easily making the cut,” Dougherty said. “With every mistake, there was more of a penalty to pay.”

Other than aiming for future PGA Championships, being on the major stage hasn’t kindled an urge to make pro tour golf into a career.

“I knew going into it, short of winning the tournament maybe, I’d be back in Kansas, back to Milburn. That’s where my priorities lie from a professional standpoint,” Dougherty said.

“I tried to play for a living for six or seven years,” he said.

Dougherty played on minor professional circuits, trying to work his way up to the PGA Tour, following graduating from UNC-Wilmington.

“It’s sort of back to reality now,” he said.

Reality includes the construction of a new clubhouse after a fire destroyed Milburn’s clubhouse in November.

With that said, Dougherty mentioned the 2012 PGA Professional National Championship will be in California, at two courses near Monterey Bay, in June.