Trying to make it as a professional golfer is tough.
It’s even worse during a pandemic.
But that’s what Vancouver’s Alistair Docherty has been pursuing, traveling around the country in search of a break.
On Monday, he finally got one.
The Union High School graduate shot a 9-under 63 to share medalist honors with three other players in a qualifying round for this week’s Korn Ferry Tour event, meaning all four will tee off Thursday in the first round of the TPC San Antonio Challenge at the Canyons.
It will be Docherty’s the first career start on the Korn Ferry Tour, the qualifying series for the PGA Tour.
“In any career you choose, you’re going to have ups and downs,” Docherty said Tuesday. “But with COVID, it has made things really tough this year. But I have faith in the progress I’ve made as player, and I feel good about where my game is at.”
Docherty, 26, has been pursuing a career in golf since graduating from Chico State in 2016. He’s played full time on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and last year earned a spot in the PGA Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev., last summer, finishing 66th.
But after finishing tied for 61st last winter in the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, Docherty hoped to be playing in several Korn Ferry events this summer.
“The top 40 finishers in that qualifying tournament are guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour,” Docherty said. “But in a normal year, there are usually 20 open spots for other players. By finishing 61st, I earned conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour, which would have allowed me to earn a few starts in Korn Ferry events. And then I could have played my way into more events.”
But because of the pandemic, spots this summer on the Korn Ferry Tour are far more restricted, making it tougher on conditional-status players like Docherty.
To earn a spot into a Korn Ferry event, players like Docherty must play in a Monday qualifier, one round of golf for eight available spots. If the event has two Monday qualifiers, like the San Antonio event, then you can have 120 players vying for four spots at each site.
Docherty was one of those four players on Monday. There were seven other players one shot back at 64.
“It’s one round of golf, and you have to be on,” Docherty said. “One bad break can be the difference. At the event in Colorado, I played well and shot a 65, and that wasn’t good enough.”
Since early June, Docherty has been trying to get his way into a Korn Ferry field every Monday, starting with two events in Florida, one in Utah, one in Colorado before this week’s San Antonio event.
“It gets really expensive with the travel, the hotels and the entry fees for these Monday qualifiers,” Docherty said. “And if you don’t make it, then you’re not making any money.”
Docherty, who has been living in Scottsdale, Ariz., since last fall, has tried to make ends meet by playing in mini-tour events over the weekends between Monday qualifiers — which involves more travel — or even working as a caddy for other players.
“I got home after the Colorado event, and I called my parents and told them that I didn’t know if I could keep doing this,” he said. “But then I decided to pack up my car and drive to San Antonio in one day.”
Docherty said when he arrived Sunday night in Texas he considered sleeping in his car to save money, but eventually checked into a motel.
That moved paid off with Monday’s round that got him into this week’s Korn Ferry event. He will tee off at 2:40 p.m. Central time (12:40 p.m. Pacific) on Thursday in the final threesome of the day.
Docherty’s goal is to play well enough to make the cut and place high enough that he will earn a spot in the next Korn Ferry event, July 15-18, also in San Antonio.
“But if not, then I’m right back in the same boat I was before, playing in a Monday qualifier,” he said.
As stressful as the golf situation has been, Docherty said the most stressful part of the week for him comes before he’s even taken a single shot.
“At the start every event, you get tested for COVID, the nose swab,” Docherty said. “And then you spend the next two hours stressing out. Because if it comes back positive, not only doing you have to deal with the fact that you have this virus, but it also means you aren’t playing that week. You aren’t playing for who knows how long.”
And Docherty really wants to stay on the course. After the two San Antonio events, the Korn Ferry Tour moves to events in Missouri and Nebraska before heading to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains, Ore., for the Winco Foods Portland Open on Aug. 6-9.
“Hopefully, I play well, and continue to play well, and I’m out there playing in Portland in August,” Docherty said.