Planes, Buses and Automobiles

The 48-hour, 2,100-mile odyssey of Alistair Docherty to get to a Korn Ferry Tour event

A huge favor from a near-stranger, two standby flights, a plane that went in the opposite direction of his final destination, an overnight stay in Boston, a red-eye flight for his caddie, a bus ride, being picked up by the caddie’s dad at a bus station, borrowing the car of the caddie’s mom, and finally a 100-mile drive to the course: Alistair Docherty’s trip from Athens, Ga., to Falmouth, Maine, is a great example of what life with conditional status can be like. This is a story of a man chasing a dream (and also planes, buses and automobiles.)

First, a little background: Docherty finished T61 at the final stage of Q school on the Korn Ferry Tour at the end of 2019, and although that makes you a member of the tour, starts are few and far between. Having such a status basically forces you to chase Monday, because if you get through, make a cut and move up in the reshuffle, you can set up your entire season. Docherty chased Mondays for the first part of the season without any success. He did get a few starts based on his finish at Q-school but wasn’t able to capitalize. It is hard to play well when you have no idea when your starts will come and the pressure of knowing a missed cut probably means weeks if not months until your next opportunity. Docherty has made just five starts in this extended season and none since the start of the new year. He has made just one cut, finishing 53rd at the Lincoln Land Championship last September, which netted him $2,514.

“What should I do?” That was the text I got from Docherty on Monday afternoon; he was in Athens for the Forme Tour event but had moved to third alternate for the Korn Ferry event. The options were to stay and play in Georgia, where he had a guaranteed start but for a purse that was one-seventh the size of the Korn Ferry event, or head to Falmouth hoping he would move up the alternate list and get in the field. We discussed the pros and cons, and he decided to wait until the morning to make the call.

He awoke the next morning to learn he had moved up to first alternate. The decision was made; it was time to find a way to Maine. He packed his bags and headed for the airport in Atlanta. During the 75-mile drive, he called his mother to ask for help finding a flight. An optometrist technician, she searched for flights between appointments. Docherty also called his roommate, Corey Johnson, who grew up in New Hampshire, and asked if he knew of any caddies in the area who would work for him. Johnson, who loops in Colorado during the summer, said he had some extra airline miles and would use them to get to New England and do the job himself. He began his own search for a flight. Docherty was searching on his phone as he drove. (“Not the safest thing,” he acknowledges.) The only flight he could find to Portland, Maine, was priced at more than $1,000. Spending that kind of money on a flight when your credit cards are almost maxed out isn’t an option.

planes buses and automobiles athens to atlanta map

I put out a tweet asking others for opinions, and most suggested flying into Boston, which was a much cheaper option with flights around $400. But that also posed a problem: It would require a rental car, and those are especially hard to come by these days due to Covid-related shortages.

Docherty reached out to everyone he knew for help without much success until he sent a text to “Wheels,” a retired American Airlines pilot. (Wheels didn’t want his real name used for this story which is convenient because Docherty wasn’t sure how to spell it anyway.) Docherty had met Wheels only twice, but the pilot had offered to help if Docherty ever got in a bind. And Docherty was obviously now in a bind. So he sent Wheels a text despite not having corresponded with him since their last round about two months ago. It was a Hail Mary. “Hey, Wheels, I’m in a really tough spot,” the text began. When they had played together, Wheels mentioned he could add Docherty to a list that would allow him to fly standby for free.

Wheels replied immediately with five simple words: “Yes, send me the details.” Wheels quickly added him to the standby list (a text chastising Docherty for not doing it when they had played would follow), and Wheels began the search to find the best way to get the player to Boston. Because the only option was flying standby, Wheels looked for flights Docherty almost certainly would get on. As a former pilot, Wheels was experienced in finding flights that had the most open seats. That was the good news. But to get to Boston, it turned out that Docherty would have to fly to Miami, which is kind of the wrong direction if you’re trying to get to Maine.

Planes Trains and Automobiles Text

That, however, was hardly the end of the issue. Docherty departed Atlanta knowing there were four open seats on the flight from Miami to Boston; if they filled up before the scheduled departure, Docherty was out of luck. Upon landing in Miami, he turned on his phone to a voicemail from the Korn Ferry Tour. Arjun Atwal had withdrawn. Docherty was in the field. Now he just had to get to Maine. He quickly exited the plane and headed to the gate for the flight to Boston, hoping he still had a seat. He provided his name and was rewarded with a boarding pass. One problem had been averted, but the adventure was hardly over.

He landed in Boston around 5 p.m. Tuesday, and despite a crazy travel schedule, his clubs and bags miraculously arrived with him. Yet another hurdle had been cleared. Things just kept getting better.

As for Johnson, he had found a flight, but the best he could book was a red-eye leaving Denver just before midnight and landing in Boston at 6 a.m. on Wednesday. Docherty’s father had booked him a room at an airport hotel; he would spend the night there and get up at 5 a.m. to meet his caddie.

Without a rental car to be had, Docherty found a bus that would leave from near the airport and usher player and caddie to Concord, N.H., where Johnson’s parents live. He booked two seats for the 7 a.m. departure, at the cost of $22 per seat.

Johnson’s flight arrived on time but the two still had to race to catch the bus. An uneventful 70-mile ride to Concord followed. Johnson’s dad, Brit, picked them up at the station, and they made the five-minute drive home. Once there they transferred their luggage to the car of Johnson’s mother, Debbie, who had agreed to let them borrow it for the week.

Like any good caddie, Johnson jumped behind the wheel for the scenic drive to Falmouth. Planes, buses and automobiles: just another day in the life of a conditional Korn Ferry Tour member.

Docherty will tee off at noon on Thursday along with Ollie Schniederjans and Jimmy Stanger. Because Wednesdays are reserved for the pro-am and he didn’t get a spot in that field, Docherty will play the course without the benefit of a practice round.

I look forward to writing the story about his fairytale win.

Planes buses and automobiles driving

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