New coach, change of scenery boosted Alistair Docherty for Korn Ferry Q-School run

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New coach, change of scenery boosted Alistair Docherty for Korn Ferry Q-School run

Korn Ferry

New coach, change of scenery boosted Alistair Docherty for Korn Ferry Q-School run

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WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Sometimes it takes a few years to find the right formula for success, particularly where Q-School is concerned. Alistair Docherty can attest to that.

Docherty, 25, fizzled out in the first stage of two previous attempts at earning Korn Ferry Tour status. On Thursday, he ended the opening round of final stage one shot off the lead. The Pacific Northwest native posted a 6-under 65 on a soggy day on Orange County National’s Panther Lakes course. He had five birdies and an eagle at the par-5 14th that he set up with a “perfect 2-iron.”

“Caddie had a good read on it because I would have missed it,” Docherty said of the resulting 12-footer. “Give that one to the caddie.”

Docherty should get plenty of credit – for preparation and maturity, if nothing else. Since graduating from Chico State, an NCAA Division II program that finished as the national runner-up in 2016 when Docherty was a senior, the bulk of Docherty’s competitive experience has come on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada.

KORN FERRY TOUR: Q-school leaderboard

For a young professional just starting out, cost-saving measures are understandably in play. Docherty took that route in choosing a pre-qualifying start for Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. He went to St. George, Utah, to stay with a friend while competing at SunRiver Golf Club.

In retrospect, a high-altitude venue like SunRiver downplayed his advantage as a big hitter.

“Every time I got there, it just wasn’t my week,” Docherty said. “I like playing golf courses that are a little more difficult. Kind of eliminates some of the field. My length usually is to my advantage and that course just didn’t suit me.”

Docherty had been wintering in La Quinta, California, but this year moved to the Phoenix area and began work on his swing with Andy Patnou. A roommate introduced the two. Slowly, Docherty’s game began falling into place.

Docherty advanced through first stage at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona, in September. He was third at the second-stage qualifier at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, California, a course he was familiar with from playing rounds with a host family member when he first turned professional.

A change in scenery seems to have done it for Docherty, but for 45-year-old Tag Ridings, the secret to an opening 7-under 64 on the Panther Lakes course was a new putter. Ridings, who guesses he’s played Q-School (through several iterations) 14 times over the span of his 22-year career, put a Piretti putter with a new shaft in his bag before the first round.

“I’d actually been putting really nicely,” Ridings said. “In fact, I only built it because I felt I had been putting so well, I didn’t feel like I had been searching. Just kind of a see-what-happens type of thing.”

Ridings had seven birdies and an eagle in his opening round.

Braden Thornberry played the Crooked Cat course in 7-under 65 and tied Ridings for the lead. There is no cut this week’s event, and every player will play two rounds on each of Orange County National’s two courses.

Thornberry advanced to final stage as an amateur last year, halfway through his senior season at Ole Miss. After finishing T-72, which didn’t earn him any guaranteed starts for the 2019 season, Thornberry ultimately turned professional for the spring. He made 14 Korn Ferry Tour starts but played the weekend only six times.

Now that he’s established as a professional, Thornberry thinks Q-School might even be a little easier to attack mentally. Either way, you’re playing for your living.

“I wouldn’t say there was less pressure last year, obviously there was another option,” he said. “Honestly, that probably made it a little bit tougher. You weren’t fully making up your mind either way, there’s that little it of doubt – if I finish here what am I going to do. This year, it’s pretty clear cut.”

After three more rounds, the top 40 finishers and ties will receive a number of guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts in 2020 relative to their position on the leaderboard. The medalist (and ties) receives fully exempt status for the upcoming season.

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