The citizens of Des Moines will be the first to tell you that
living in Iowa is life in the slow lane, so when the 20th Senior
U.S. Open rolled into town last week, they admitted it was the
biggest thing to hit the state since Pope John Paul II's visit
20 years ago. Even the great flood of '93 paled in comparison to
a sighting of Arnold Palmer, whose arrival made Page One of the
Register. (The newspaper reported that as Palmer checked in with
tournament officials, a starstruck volunteer called him Mr.
Nicklaus. "The only thing Nicklaus has that I want is 10 more
years," Palmer shot back.)
No one cared that the King, a few months shy of 70, missed the
cut by 15 strokes. All that mattered was that he had showed up
at Des Moines Country Club. Then again, who hadn't? Everyone in
the state seemed to show up at one time or another last week.
More than 25,000 graced the practice rounds, and double that
came on both Saturday and Sunday. Said Bob Duval, "They were
cheering for chips on the practice green if you got 'em in the
Even Iowa governor Tom Vilsack was smitten. He attended last
Thursday's opening round and found himself face-to-face with
Palmer as Arnie waited to hit on the 9th tee. "I used to
practice your putting style," the governor said.
"You can take my place," said Palmer, who had putted miserably
Palmer will probably want to forget the 81-84 he shot in Des
Moines, but for Iowans, there was much to remember. There were
the shuttle buses so laden with fans that they destroyed the
asphalt parking lots. There were the wavy greens that left some
of the Seniors woozy and unamused. There were great shots
galore, many of them played by two journeymen. Dave Eichelberger
and Ed Dougherty are not Arnie and Jack. They're not even Hale
and Gil. But, hey, Des Moines is used to summer stock.
Eichelberger, a silver-haired Texan whose drives are as long as
his drawls, was the underdog who won this Open because he
started the final round a stroke off the lead, made seven
birdies and had the day's low round, a four-under 68. That gave
him a four-round total of seven-under 281. "I've been trying to
get my name on a USGA trophy for 30 years," Eichelberger said.
"I've finally done it." Before this, his best moments had been a
couple of wins in Milwaukee and one at Bay Hill on the regular
Tour and three victories in his first six seasons as a Senior.
Just when he figured to start winding down--he'll be 56 in
September--he won the big one, which has been the story of his
golfing life. "My career has been a couple weeks of great play
followed by a couple years of mediocrity," said Eichelberger,
who once missed 22 straight cuts on the big Tour.
Dougherty was an even bigger underdog. He's not exempt on the
Senior tour, and even though he won $185,000 for coming in
second at the Open, three shots back, he'll still have to
Monday-qualify to get into events. His only win in 22 years on
the regular Tour came at the low-rent Deposit Guaranty Classic
in 1995, when he was 47 and wielding a long putter. Dougherty
won over fans in Des Moines with his gutsy play, his
self-deprecating comments and his honesty. "Dave Eichelberger
won this tournament. I didn't blow it," said Dougherty. "I
didn't accomplish what I wanted, but I played pretty damn good.
This has to be the highlight of my career. It's a feather in my
cap to say I led the Open for three days." He paused. "This is
probably the only Senior event that's not a three-day
tournament. I'm going to have to talk to the USGA about that."
The close call typified Dougherty's career. He's Mr. Almost.
Heck, he's One-Foot-in-the-Rough Ed. He still gets Christmas
cards that begin, "Hey, One-Foot..." The nickname is from his
days on the PGA Tour when, during practice rounds, a player
would have to pay everyone in the group whenever he missed a
fairway. Dougherty had an uncanny knack for missing by a foot.
Same thing in high school. In the American Legion district
baseball final one summer back home in Philadelphia, Dougherty,
the pitcher, was working on a one-hitter in the 11th inning. His
opponent, future major leaguer Jon Matlack, had allowed just
three hits and drew a two-out walk off Dougherty. The next
batter hit a high pop fly to center. "My centerfielder tried to
make a basket catch, like Willie Mays," Dougherty said. "It
bounced off his chest and we lose 1-0. Matlack got $75,000 to
sign and I got 'Nice game, kid.'"
Nice-Game-Kid Ed nevertheless hoped for a career in baseball and
planned to try out with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the spring of
1968. He wound up in a different camp, though, when he was
drafted into the U.S. Army and was subsequently sent to Vietnam.
Bad timing. His one-year tour of duty fell during a leap year,
so he served an extra day. That kept him in Nam during the Tet
Offensive. One night a few weeks into the offensive, Dougherty's
unit, the 196th light infantry, came under attack and was
overrun by the enemy. Dougherty, a sergeant, was thrown by a
mortar explosion, caught shrapnel in his right hand and broke a
bone in his wrist. He heard something that night he'll never
forget, a line he uses whenever he hears anyone whining. "I'm
there moaning with blood all over," he says, "and the medic
says, 'It's a long way from your heart, kid. You'll be all
Only 45 of the 113 men in Dougherty's outfit made it through the
night. He doesn't like to talk about that battle, or Vietnam,
period. "I lost a lot of friends over there, and I'm over here,"
he says. "They didn't get a chance to live life, and I did. So
out of respect..." Dougherty won a Purple Heart, several Bronze
Stars and had two rows of salad over the left shirt pocket of
his uniform when he returned home. They're hanging on a wall at
his mother's house in Philly, but don't ask him about medals.
Surviving doesn't seem heroic.
The PGA Tour prodded Dougherty into visiting the Vietnam
Memorial in Washington, D.C., three years ago, on Memorial Day,
so the Tour could film the trip for its weekly television show.
He hasn't gone back since. "And I won't," he says.
Dougherty was released from the Army in August 1969 and was a
changed man. "When I came back from Vietnam, I said I'd never do
anything I didn't want to do again," he says. After two years
away from baseball he had lost some strength in his legs, and
his fastball. But he had found golf, a game in which he didn't
have to run after hitting the ball.
His first job in golf was as a bag-room attendant at Edgemont
Country Club near Philadelphia. Dougherty then spent six winters
at a club in the Virgin Islands as an assistant to Mike
Reynolds, a pro from Pennsylvania. Reynolds was on his way to
the lesson tee in St. Croix in the winter of 1970 when he got
his first glimpse of Dougherty, the golfer. "Ed had finished his
work and was going out to play," says Reynolds, now the director
of golf at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I saw him
make a swing on the 1st tee, and he hit an absolute bullet. The
next day I asked if he would like to learn how to be a good
player. Right away I thought Ed could be a Tour player. He had
huge forearms. There are two things you can't teach: Strength
and talent. Ed had both."
Dougherty first became a Class A club pro and then, in 1975,
qualified for the PGA Tour, where he had a long but modest
career. "Once, in Greensboro, they announced me as having won
$1.1 million," he says. "I said, 'Why don't you tell them I
spent $1.2 million chasing that $1.1 million?'"
Dougherty didn't win enough to remain exempt every year.
Whenever he dropped off the Tour, he took a job as a club pro,
and he is the only player to have won a club-pro career grand
slam--the PGA stroke and match play, the national club pro and
the now-defunct world club pro. In his late 40s Dougherty was
slowed by a shoulder injury that required surgery and a long
rehabilitation, and then, two weeks before he turned 50 in
November 1997, he herniated two disks in his back, which delayed
his Senior debut until May 1998. He still made 19 starts and
earned $412,679, his most lucrative season ever.
Dougherty won over the Des Moines fans on the first day. He got
everyone's attention right out of the chute by making two
eagles, shooting 30 on the back nine and opening with a 68. He
followed with a 69 and pithy comments on Friday. Asked to
explain his improved putting, he said, "No brains, no headache,"
then credited his caddie, Cecilio Olmedo, for expertly reading
the overly undulating greens. Asked to assess his Senior career
thus far, Dougherty deadpanned, "Dazzling."
On Saturday he actually was dazzling for a while, leading by as
many as six shots before stumbling and finishing the day with a
one-stroke lead over Eichelberger, Hale Irwin and Bruce
Summerhays. Unfazed, Dougherty said he was pleased with where he
stood and related how, before the round, a scorekeeper had told
him, "I'll be walking with you today, Mr. [Jim] Dent." Dougherty
said that was the first time he had ever been mistaken for a
On Sunday the party was over. While Irwin kept missing putts to
the left, Eichelberger gradually took over. The turning point
came at the 552-yard par-5 15th, where Eichelberger hit what he
said was the best three-wood of his life, a second shot that
never left the flag, bouncing past the pin and onto the back
fringe. From there he got up and down for birdie to move to
seven under. Back at the par-3 14th, Dougherty's tee shot spun
off the green. He chipped to nine feet, then three-putted for a
double bogey to drop to five under with only three holes to
play. After the three-shot swing, the only suspense left was the
final crowd count.
The new champ headed to Chicago and this week's Ameritech Senior
Open with a piece of history, a trophy and $315,000. Dougherty
canceled plans to Monday-qualify for the tournament and headed
home with new confidence, no regrets and warm memories. Nice
Says Dougherty, "I'm there moaning with blood all over, and the
medic says, 'It's a long way from your heart, kid. You'll be all
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Fantastic Almost 50,000 showed up on Sunday to see if Dougherty (opposite, in bright blue) could go wire to wire.
COLOR PHOTO: HARRY HOW/ALLSPORT Leading men Neither Eichelberger, who hadn't won since 1997, nor the nonexempt Dougherty (left, with Olmedo) were expected to be more than bit players in Des Moines.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND [See caption above]