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Crowd Pleaser
Gary Van Sickle
July 19, 1999
The U.S. Senior Open, won by Dave Eichelberger, was the biggest thing to hit Iowa since the Pope
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July 19, 1999

Crowd Pleaser

The U.S. Senior Open, won by Dave Eichelberger, was the biggest thing to hit Iowa since the Pope

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Only 45 of the 113 men in Dougherty's outfit made it through the night. He doesn't like to talk about that battle, or Vietnam, period. "I lost a lot of friends over there, and I'm over here," he says. "They didn't get a chance to live life, and I did. So out of respect..." Dougherty won a Purple Heart, several Bronze Stars and had two rows of salad over the left shirt pocket of his uniform when he returned home. They're hanging on a wall at his mother's house in Philly, but don't ask him about medals. Surviving doesn't seem heroic.

The PGA Tour prodded Dougherty into visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., three years ago, on Memorial Day, so the Tour could film the trip for its weekly television show. He hasn't gone back since. "And I won't," he says.

Dougherty was released from the Army in August 1969 and was a changed man. "When I came back from Vietnam, I said I'd never do anything I didn't want to do again," he says. After two years away from baseball he had lost some strength in his legs, and his fastball. But he had found golf, a game in which he didn't have to run after hitting the ball.

His first job in golf was as a bag-room attendant at Edgemont Country Club near Philadelphia. Dougherty then spent six winters at a club in the Virgin Islands as an assistant to Mike Reynolds, a pro from Pennsylvania. Reynolds was on his way to the lesson tee in St. Croix in the winter of 1970 when he got his first glimpse of Dougherty, the golfer. "Ed had finished his work and was going out to play," says Reynolds, now the director of golf at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I saw him make a swing on the 1st tee, and he hit an absolute bullet. The next day I asked if he would like to learn how to be a good player. Right away I thought Ed could be a Tour player. He had huge forearms. There are two things you can't teach: Strength and talent. Ed had both."

Dougherty first became a Class A club pro and then, in 1975, qualified for the PGA Tour, where he had a long but modest career. "Once, in Greensboro, they announced me as having won $1.1 million," he says. "I said, 'Why don't you tell them I spent $1.2 million chasing that $1.1 million?' "

Dougherty didn't win enough to remain exempt every year. Whenever he dropped off the Tour, he took a job as a club pro, and he is the only player to have won a club-pro career grand slam—the PGA stroke and match play, the national club pro and the now-defunct world club pro. In his late 40s Dougherty was slowed by a shoulder injury that required surgery and a long rehabilitation, and then, two weeks before he turned 50 in November 1997, he herniated two disks in his back, which delayed his Senior debut until May 1998. He still made 19 starts and earned $412,679, his most lucrative season ever.

Dougherty won over the Des Moines fans on the first day. He got everyone's attention right out of the chute by making two eagles, shooting 30 on the back nine and opening with a 68. He followed with a 69 and pithy comments on Friday. Asked to explain his improved putting, he said, "No brains, no headache," then credited his caddie, Cecilio Olmedo, for expertly reading the overly undulating greens. Asked to assess his Senior career thus far, Dougherty deadpanned, "Dazzling."

On Saturday he actually was dazzling for a while, leading by as many as six shots before stumbling and finishing the day with a one-stroke lead over Eichelberger, Hale Irwin and Bruce Summerhays. Unfazed, Dougherty said he was pleased with where he stood and related how, before the round, a scorekeeper had told him, "I'll be walking with you today, Mr. [Jim] Dent." Dougherty said that was the first time he had ever been mistaken for a 6'3" African-American.

On Sunday the party was over. While Irwin kept missing putts to the left, Eichelberger gradually took over. The turning point came at the 552-yard par-5 15th, where Eichelberger hit what he said was the best three-wood of his life, a second shot that never left the flag, bouncing past the pin and onto the back fringe. From there he got up and down for birdie to move to seven under. Back at the par-3 14th, Dougherty's tee shot spun off the green. He chipped to nine feet, then three-putted for a double bogey to drop to five under with only three holes to play. After the three-shot swing, the only suspense left was the final crowd count.

The new champ headed to Chicago and this week's Ameritech Senior Open with a piece of history, a trophy and $315,000. Dougherty canceled plans to Monday-qualify for the tournament and headed home with new confidence, no regrets and warm memories. Nice game, kid.

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