“Just a sigh of relief,” Docherty said of his reaction.
Docherty is among 312 golfers trying to join Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus as U.S. Amateur champions.
“It speaks to the prestige of the tournament when the winner gets to play in the Masters and the U.S. Open,” Docherty said.
Two days of stroke play begin Aug. 15 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan. The top 64 advance to the match play portion of the tournament.
The final 64 is where Docherty expects to be. It doesn’t matter that his pedigree isn’t as lavish as other top amateur golfers.
“Playing at a Division II school, I’ve always been viewed as an underdog,” he said. “But when I do play in the bigger tournaments, I feel like I’m up there with the best.”
The U.S. Amateur is the culmination of a busy and successful summer for Docherty.
He finished a dazzling collegiate career at Chico State by placing second in the NCAA Division II Championships. He was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Male Athlete of the Year for all sports.
He traveled to England, where he was among 10 golfers who represented the United States at the Arnold Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup style event matching top collegiate golfers from the U.S. and Europe.
At the U.S. Amateur, he could take a big step toward his ultimate goal — becoming a professional golfer. Each semifinalist earns an automatic berth to the first stage of “Q-school” qualifying for the Web.com Tour, which is one step below the PGA Tour.
Docherty has a fallback plan if he doesn’t snag a Q-school berth.
This winter, he will likely to move to Arizona and join the Gateway Tour, which Docherty described as “small but strong.”
“I can work on my game year-round,” he said. “It’s a little hard when it’s pouring down rain.”
Next summer, he might target Canada’s Mackenzie Tour, on which he could earn a Q-school berth.
Before that, however, he plans to return to Union High School this fall to assist his former coach Gary Mills with the boys golf team.
He’ll have plenty of stories to tell. Tops among them are memories of the Arnold Palmer Cup near Liverpool, England.
“It was unbelievable,” Docherty said. “The atmosphere was incredible. The golf course was perfect. … Arnold Palmer, to be able to represent a name like that was unbelievable.”
Docherty is currently No. 335 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Playing an NCAA Division II schedule made it hard for Docherty to climb those rankings, in which points are weighted on the overall strength of each tournament’s field.
But the Arnold Palmer Cup showed Docherty’s game can stand up to the best. On the event’s final day, he halved his singles match against Adrian Meronk, the world’s No. 9 amateur player.
The U.S. Amateur could end with Docherty holding a putter or popcorn. Either way, he believes his fate rests in his own hands.
“I know I can play at a level where I can compete with the best,” he said.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @col_mrice.