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Mental game, nutrition unlock Kevin Dougherty's first PGA TOUR card

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#TOURBound

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Finishes No. 22 on Korn Ferry Tour Points List to earn 2024 TOUR membership



    Written by Adam Stanley @Adam_Stanley

    Kevin Dougherty once flew from Florida to New York City in Morgan Hoffmann’s plane and played golf with Justin Timberlake. And then, after a Timberlake show in Arizona, he teed it up with the pop superstar and Aaron Rodgers.

    The golf world is small. People in all walks of life and all ages enjoy the game – no matter your spot on the stage. Dougherty has been a long-time Korn Ferry Tour member. He’s seen plenty of success up close and, sure, he’s lucky enough to count some big-time celebrities as friends.

    But until this year, the biggest dream of his life still went unrealized.

    That changed with a No. 22 finish on the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour Points List. Thirty players earned 2024 PGA TOUR membership via the season-long standings, finalized after last week’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance.

    Dougherty, 32, is officially #TOURBound.


    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty of the United States poses for a photo with his PGA TOUR card after the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty of the United States poses for a photo with his PGA TOUR card after the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)

    NEWBURGH, INDIANA - OCTOBER 08: Kevin Dougherty poses for a photo at a studio shoot during the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing and Finance at Victoria National Golf Club on October 8, 2023 in Newburgh, Indiana. (Photo by Andrew Wevers/PGA TOUR)


    Dougherty knows heartbreak, of course. In 2018, he finished 26th on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List; at the time, the top 25 earned PGA TOUR cards. He had a birdie chip on the last hole of the Regular Season finale that ended up inches – perhaps a single inch – away from dropping. If it had fallen, he would have earned a TOUR card.

    “It was hard to deal with. But I learn from it,” Dougherty said, “and maybe there is some bigger plan, and I wasn’t quite ready (to get to the PGA TOUR).”

    Dougherty, a native of California, surprisingly started his pro-athlete journey playing hockey. He was on skates as a 3-year-old and had ice time that started at 7 a.m., which meant a 4 a.m. wake-up. Until 11 years old, that was his life. He was going to play in the big leagues.

    But as time goes on, time changes. Dougherty played two years “up” on a team with his brother that traveled all over the country. But when they went to high school, Dougherty had no one left to play with.

    “So just during that two months of summer, I focused on golf, and I was like, ‘I’m done, dad. I’m playing golf. This is it,’” Dougherty said.



    Dougherty had a good young star to emulate as he began to make some noise on the golf scene in California, as Rickie Fowler had won a top-tier event in California four years in a row. Then, in Dougherty’s junior and senior years of high school, he won that same tournament.

    “I felt his presence,” Dougherty said of Fowler. “I knew I was making the right strides.

    “I remember seeing (Rickie) at a local club with his long hair and white belt and I just knew a little bit about him. In his freshman year he shot a 62 to win an event in Southern California. I was looking at him as a TOUR player when he was only 15.”



    In high school Dougherty stood only 5-foot-9 and weighed 160 pounds, so he had a short game that was dialed – because it had to be. He remembers, as a junior, having to hit driver, 3-wood at his local club. Now he’ll hit driver and have just 70 yards left. The short game was good because he needed it to be good.

    After a solid high school stretch, Dougherty was nearly en route to the University of San Diego under Tim Mickelson, who told Dougherty that the only way he was going to leave the California school was if the head coach position at Arizona State opened up. It did, in 2011, and Dougherty headed to Oklahoma State instead, the school Fowler was already starring at.

    “As I was developing in those late high-school years, Rickie was putting in a good word with coach (Mike McGraw) and I went out a couple times when I was in high school just to hang out with Rickie and needle coach a little bit,” Dougherty said. “There was no scholarship. Technically I was a walk-on. I had a place on the team … I knew going there I would be around the best players in the world. And I just figured I could learn and get better.”

    Dougherty ended up arriving at OSU as Fowler was leaving and the two didn’t play a college season together – although, Dougherty laughs, he moved into Fowler’s dorm room in the athletic department of the school.

    Even without Fowler, OSU was a deep team with plenty of notable names including Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway, Peter Uihlein and Talor Gooch.

    “There’s the top four right there. It was cut-throat. The squad was stacked. I was a very small fish in a large, large pond,” Dougherty said.

    Although there could have been an opportunity for Dougherty to go to another school and be a No. 1 or 2 player, he figured sticking it out at OSU would be best for him moving forward.

    “I saw the value in, honestly, getting beat every day by Peter and Morgan and Kevin and Talor. I figured I could learn more by getting beat than going to a school and being the 1 guy,” Dougherty said.

    Dougherty will be first to admit that it was “a little frustrating” that getting to the PGA TOUR has taken as long as it has. He has played in a handful of TOUR events via Monday qualifying and sponsor exemptions, and he even competed in the 2017 U.S. Open – making the cut in his first major after getting to play with Gooch and Jordan Niebrugge, another OSU product.

    Through the COVID-impacted 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season, Dougherty missed almost as many cuts as he made, and he said he needed a change. He sought out a mental-approach adjustment and ended up working with Dr. Raymond Prior – a performance physiologist and author who works with athletes across most major sports leagues, plus Olympians and non-athletes. He wanted to know why some things came into his head – like why some weeks if a caddie dropped a bag it would trigger him and other weeks it wouldn’t. The ‘why’ was the most important thing when it came to pivoting his inside-the-ropes thoughts.

    “I had my life changed,” Dougherty said of his work with the good doctor.



    While Dougherty was getting his mental game settled and sorted, he also knew, at 32, he wasn’t going to be able to hang with the up-and-coming college stars forever. He changed his workout regime and diet, cooking for himself almost every day on the road. He snacks mostly on ground meat (bison is his favorite), coconut rice, and vegetables on the course. Lean proteins and healthy fats only.

    The results have spoken for themselves this year. Dougherty recorded five top-10 finishes in 2023, including a runner-up at the Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard. He also had a tie for third at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank thanks to a second-round 61.

    He admitted, however, the last few weeks of the season have been tough as he got closer to #TOURBound.

    “I’ve had this lifelong dream of mine and I’ve been so close,” he said. “I have some wild thoughts going through my head I’ve been trying to work on, and playing freely is going to be tough because I wanted to protect (#TOURBound status).”

    There’s nothing to worry about now, however.

    Timberlake may have an Emmy, an Oscar and a Grammy. Rodgers may have a league MVP. He’s won a Super Bowl.

    But Dougherty? He has his PGA TOUR card.

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