Kevin Dougherty missed the PGA Tour by an inch. His dream is still very much alive, though.

  • Kevin Dougherty works on his game before the start of Thursday's first round in the Web.com Tour's Evans Scholars Invitational at The Glen Club in Glenview.

    Kevin Dougherty works on his game before the start of Thursday's first round in the Web.com Tour's Evans Scholars Invitational at The Glen Club in Glenview. BARRY ROZNER | Staff Photographer

 
 

There's always a 26th guy.

Every year, there's a player who misses out on a PGA Tour card by the slimmest of margins.

It's usually a single shot. A lonely stroke. Just one putt.

Someone has to lose out on that 25th and final spot -- but it's not always by one inch.

That's why Kevin Dougherty's chip went viral last fall at the Web.com Tour Championship, when the regular season ended with Dougherty chipping for birdie on 18 in Portland.

Only to miss by a hair.

To watch it now, as was the case watching it then, it's still hard to believe it didn't go in.

"I don't believe it either," Dougherty said with a big smile. "From where I was chipping, it looked like the line was perfect and it was gonna come up short.

"Then, when I realized it had enough, I said, 'Holy cow, it's gonna go in.' And it just fell off to the left somehow."

That tiny margin -- just $1,923 and a tie for fourth -- the difference between long car rides and private jets, staying in strangers' homes and plush hotel rooms, scraping to get by and cashing big sponsors' checks.

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The difference between toiling in virtual anonymity and huge crowds. The difference between dreaming and living the dream.

"I think about it every day," said the 28-year-old California native, who's at The Glen Club this weekend for the Web.com's Evans Scholars Invitational. "It's what drives me to practice and get better. I never want to have that feeling again.

"I see it. I have it saved on my phone. It's on social media probably once a week and I get notifications when people tag me. I see it quite a bit."

The Top 25 in the regular season standings graduate each year to the PGA Tour, and then the Top 25 in the three-event playoffs also get a promotion.

So while 25 of his friends celebrated with champagne behind the 18th green, Dougherty had to leave Portland for Ohio immediately after it ended, trying again to get inside the Top 25 in the postseason.

Obviously, it did not happen.

"Monday I was in Columbus for the next playoff event and just got back to work, trying to refocus," Dougherty said. "Really, I got over it pretty fast. You have to out here."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Oklahoma State product has been solid this season, contending several times and currently sits at No. 69 with earnings of $32,667. This is where we remind you that 69th on the PGA Tour -- 2013 Web grad Chesson Hadley -- has already collected $1.03 million this season.

"My game's in really good shape. It's probably more consistent than it's been at any point in my career," said Dougherty, who gets plenty of support from fellow OSU alum Rickie Fowler. "I haven't had any crazy top finishes yet. Just have to get rid of some mistakes down the stretch that have cost me on the weekend.

"Trending in the right direction. Still have a lot of the year left."

But it only takes one big week, four straight good days and one huge win on the Web to virtually guarantee a spot on the PGA Tour the following season.

And every year rookies win on the PGA. It's already happened this year with Cam Champ, Martin Trainer and Adam Long. Second-year players Keith Mitchell and Corey Conners have also won.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last year, Max Homa needed a back-nine 30 on Friday at the regular-season Web finale in Portland to make the cut and earn a spot in the Web playoffs.

Now he's on the PGA Tour. And he won a few weeks ago.

That's how quickly it can happen. That's how fast a pro golfer's life can change.

"It's so true. Just have to realize it's a long career," Dougherty said. "I'm gonna be out here on the PGA Tour for 20 years, and another year out here (on the Web) to get ready and hone my skills is never a bad thing."

In the meantime, the crowds are on his side, rooting for a guy who maintains a smile, a good attitude and a healthy dose of optimism.

"It's amazing to have the support in all the different towns we go to," he said. "People screaming from outside the ropes. It hits home. It helps."

He's an easy guy to root for, someone who doesn't blame the golf gods for his fate, or dwell on the absurdity of what happened, of how close he came. He's not even tired of talking about Portland.

"Look, there's always a 26th. Someone has to be," Dougherty said. "I think I'll look back on it 10 years from now and know it made me better.

"Two ways to look at, positive or negative. Get upset and say, 'That was my time. It's never gonna happen.' Or just take it and build on it and get stronger because of it.

"I did everything I could do, so that's all you can do in this game. Maybe there's a reason. Maybe I wasn't ready last year and this year will be different.

"I know good things are going to happen for me."

With that, Dougherty said a respectful goodbye and headed back to the range. There's more work to do.

And the dream is still very much alive.

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