Sean Dougherty of Overland Park, Kan., might have been one of more than 90 “rookies” competing at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club Monday in the 44th PGA Professional National Championship, but he has never looked more at home. A flawless 8-under-par 64 goes far to erase homesickness, and it was enough to give Dougherty a two-stroke lead in the 44th PGA Professional National Championship presented by Club Car and Mercedes-Benz.
Dougherty, a 32-year-old PGA head professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, made eight birdies and capped his round with an eight-foot par-saving putt on the West Course to set a 36-hole scoring mark of 12-under-par 131. He broke legendary champion Sam Snead’s 1971 record by one stroke and punctuated his first two days by taking only 52 putts and making only one bogey.
Dougherty’s steady play kept him a step ahead of playing partner Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., and Scott Erdmann of Tigard, Ore., who each had a 68 to land at 133.
Faber Jamerson of Appomattox, Va., and Stuart Smith of Reno, Nev., were four strokes back at 135, each having posted a 67. Jamerson highlighted his round on the East Course by holing out a pitching wedge for eagle on the 12th hole. Smith, a PGA director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno, eagled the par-5 15th on the West Course.
Though 1,048 miles from his home in Kansas, Dougherty didn’t have to look far for reassurance. His caddie, Rob Shipman, is PGA director of instruction at Milburn Country Club.
“I got one of my best friends on my bag, my caddie and my teacher, so that makes it very special,” said Dougherty. “He keeps me loose and he gave me a lot of good reads and helped me to hit shots where I wanted. I hit a lot of putts on line, and some of them fell in, so I feel very fortunate.”
One of those invaluable moments of guidance for Dougherty came on the par-3 fifth, where he saved par by making a 12-foot putt, and later two-putted for par from 35 feet on the 18th hole.
“There are a lot of good players out here, and it’s fun to contend,” said Dougherty. “I had been told that the East is tougher than the West, but I like both of them. You have to work the ball, and that’s what I like to do.”
Sorenson, a PGA teaching professional at Columbia Golf Club in Minneapolis and making his fourth Championship appearance, stepped out of the scoring tent and looked over at Dougherty.
“It was a good day, but it’s tough keeping up with him,” said Sorenson, w hose lone bogey in two trips around Hershey Country Club’s East and West Courses came Monday at the par-3 17th hole. “The courses are in fantastic shape and the greens are just perfect and rolling awesome. They’re pretty soft because they got some rain, so if you hit a good, quality shot, you’re going to be able to get it close to the pin on most of them.”
Like Dougherty, Erdmann is relishing his Championship debut. His bogey-free 68 on the West Course included birdies on three of his final five holes.
“This is all so new,” said Erdmann, a PGA assistant professional at Oswego Lake Country Club in Lake Oswego, Ore. “I have friends calling and rooting for me and telling me they’re watching. But to tell you the truth, I have never felt so comfortable with my game. My putter has been fantastic and my whole game is clicking.”
Overall, 85 players in the 312-player field made the 36-hole cut of even-par 143. Due to impending inclement weather, Tuesday’s third round will begin at 7 a.m. ET.
Defending Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., the head coach at the University of Illinois, began the second round a stroke out of the lead, but could never mount a charge. He finished with a 71 on the East Course, including bogeys on two of his final three holes to fall seven strokes back at 138. He was joined in a group of nine players that included past National Champions Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, and Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y. Sowards, who last competed in the Championship in 2007, posted a 68, and Kestner, 57, closed with a 70.
Jeff Coston, 55, a PGA teaching professional at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash., made the Championship’s shot of the week, a stroke that boosted him to easily make the cut. He recorded his sixth career hole-in-one, using a 4-iron to ace the 201-yard eighth hole of the East Course on his way to a 67 and land at 140.
The low 20 scorers after Wednesday’s 18-hole finale earn a berth in the 93rd PGA Championship, Aug. 11-14, at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.
The first two rounds of the National Championship were conducted on the par-72, 6,636-yard West Course designed by Maurice McCarthy in 1930, and the par-71, 7,022-yard East Course, which was crafted by George Fazio and opened for play in 1969. The final two rounds will be on the East Course, the site of the 1940 PGA Championship won by Byron Nelson.
The PGA Professional National Championship is supported by Titleist/FootJoy, Callaway Golf, Nike Golf, TaylorMade-adidas golf/Ashworth and the PGA Tour.