Sean Dougherty remembers just how close he was last year.
And five times before that.
Dougherty, the head golf professional at the Milburn Golf and Country Club, has finished in the top three six times as a participant in The Watson Challenge. Last year, he finished as the runner-up. Dougherty said this year might be the strongest field the tournament has seen, and he’s excited to take on the challenge once again.
“Of all the years for me to win it, maybe this one’s not the best,” Dougherty said. “But we’re going to give it a try and see what we can do.”
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Aside from tournament host Tom Watson, the field will include PGA Tour member and former Kansas State golfer Robert Streb, who is ranked 71st in the PGA FedEx Cup rankings.
The 2014 Watson Challenge, an annual event held to determine the best golfer in the Kansas City, runs Friday through Sunday at the Country Club of Loch Lloyd.
Dougherty knows how difficult it is to try to best Watson.
“It’s tough,” he said. “He’s so steady, he doesn’t really make mistakes. As few mistakes as I think I make in my golf game he makes a tenth of that many mistakes and so you never have a chance for him to come back to you, it’s always you have to go catch him.”
This marks the eighth year of the event. Watson, who designed the course at Loch Lloyd, has won five times in seven previous tournaments, losing in 2007 and 2012. His most recent loss came against former Kansas State golfer Joseph Ida, who will participate in this year’s tournament.
“I’m looking forward to testing these young kids out again,” Watson said. “I always lay down the gauntlet to them. I say ‘you can’t beat a broken down old has-been like me?’”
Watson hasn’t looked much like a has-been lately. In March he shot a 63 in the second round of the Champions Tour’s Toshiba Classic at the Newport Beach Country Club in California. He finished tied for 20th.
“I broke my age,” Watson said. “I’ve been playing half-decently; not bad for a 64-year-old.”
While he said he didn’t play particularly well last week at the Legends of Golf tournament near Nranson, he said he is confident that he’s been hitting enough good shots to put together a good game.
Knowing the design of the course may also prove to be an advantage for Watson.
“I’ve got a little bit of an advantage from the standpoint I know the golf course pretty well but that advantage disappears very quickly when youth and power starts to show their colors,” he said.
Watson will be paired with Dougherty and Missouri golfer Ryan Zech, who finished ninth in the NCAA Division I Championship last month at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
This year will mark his fourth year in The Watson Challenge.
Zech finished as the runner-up in 2012 and shot a 223 last year for ninth place. He said he expects to play well this weekend.
“I think playing the events a few times before I kind of have a good understanding of what it’s all about and what I need to do to hopefully win the tournament,” Zech said. “I know there are a lot of good players in the field but I’m excited for the challenge.”
Proceeds from the event benefit The First Tee of Greater Kansas City.
The Watson Challenge
When/where: Friday-Sunday at the Country Club of Loch Lloyd
Tickets: $25 for adults, fans 17 and under free with a ticketed adult, available at the event
Tee times: Starting at 7:30 a.m. Friday; Watson tees off at 8:30 a.m.