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Friends and family plan

Sean Dougherty carded a stellar 67 Sunday, thanks in part to five birdies in a seven-hole stretch. He also credits his strong showing to the steady stream of texts, emails and phone calls he received before and after his round.

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Sean Dougherty said that knowing his fans back home were cheering him on really helped him out on Sunday. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Perhaps Sean Dougherty didn’t get the memo.  

Players making their initial appearance in the PGA Professional National Championship, the major event for PGA Club Professionals, are supposed to show nerves and make rookie mistakes. They certainly aren’t supposed to leap up toward the first page of the leaderboard, and definitely not when playing the more difficult of the two courses.

The PGA Head Professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kan., showed no apprehension at all Sunday as he opened his round with eight straight pars before reeling off five birdies in his next seven holes on the East Course at Hershey Country Club. Dougherty finished with a 4-under 67 and is tied for seventh going into the second round.

“I was looking at scores early and the (East) course was definitely holding its own,” Dougherty explained. “But Jeff (Sorenson) and I fed off each other pretty good.  He made a bunch of birdies early and I knew that I had to do something to keep up with him. I think he finished at 6 (6 under and tied for lead) and I finished at 4 (under), so yes, we’ll take that.”

Following the strong early showing, Dougherty wanted to acknowledge all the support he had received from his friends, club members and especially his family back in Overland Park and Milburn Country Club as it provided him a big emotional boost heading into the day.

“They’ve been shooting me texts, emails, calls -- I know they’re following online,” Dougherty said. “I don’t know if they were able to see me much on TV. I wasn’t playing that well early, but I know they’re tuned in to what’s going on over here.”

Dougherty is hoping to parlay his strong start into an appearance in Atlanta later this year.

“I think every player has the same goal when they arrive, and that’s to win.  But realistically, I want to finish in the top 20,” he said. “It’d be nice to play in the PGA Championship. I think that’s what all the players are really thinking about.”

Dougherty, who took part in filming some instruction tips earlier in the week, must have taken his own words to heart as his game, which by his own admission wasn’t sharp coming into the week, refined itself quickly on Day 1.

“This is a big event,” Dougherty said following his 67, “and I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations coming in, not with the way I’ve been hitting it. But my teacher and I worked on a few things and I hit it okay today, hit a few good putts and saved some good pars.”

A few more good putts and good par saves and Sean Dougherty may be making his first appearance in a few more championships in the near future.