These might be great days for British golf, but Nick Dougherty might not think so. Once billed as a “can’t miss” kid, the Englishman has missed big style.
Dougherty played on the same victorious 2001 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team as Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell. Yet while the latter two compete in this week’s WGC–Cadillac Championship at Doral for the chance to grab a share of an $8.5 million prize, Dougherty will tee it up in Colombia in the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic, the second event of the 2012 European Challenge Tour, where the prize money is $250,000.
At this stage of his life, Dougherty should be challenging Donald, McDowell and other Europeans on golf’s biggest stages. While Donald has gone on to become World No. 1, and McDowell to U.S. Open glory, Dougherty is just trying to get his career back on track. He has slipped to World No. 1,015 from a career high of 46 in 2008.
It’s not what anyone expected from a player with three European Tour wins – three excellent European Tour wins. Dougherty took down Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie for his first victory, the 2005 Caltax Masters. He bettered an elite field to win the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and then overcame two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen at the 2009 BMW International Open.
Dougherty’s dramatic fall since is a salient lesson to all those who think success leads to more success.
The 29-year-old made just one cut in 32 starts last year and earned just €10,600. He broke 70 only six times in 66 rounds, and averaged 74.01 per round. No wonder he lost his card and had to return to the European Tour Q-School. He failed there too, finishing 122nd out of the 148 starters and has no status on the main tour this year.
Now he travels to South America with some trepidation.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go, to be honest,” Dougherty said. “I’ve never played on the Challenge Tour before, so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity for me.”
He needs to finish inside the top 20 on this year’s European Challenge Tour money list to regain full status on the main Euro Tour. First he needs to regain his confidence.
“It’s certainly been a bit of a smack to the solar plexus,” Dougherty said about last year. “It’s obviously hit my pride and my ego really hard recently, but I still have hope and I still have belief.
“I think with the fall that I’ve taken in the last two years, it’s an experience that can make your career and make you a lot stronger.”
Let’s hope so. Dougherty is one of the more affable characters in European golf. The 2002 Rookie of the Year never ducks an interview. He was always willing to talk last year when he could have been forgiven for telling journalists like me where to go.
He’s too good a player to be competing on Europe’s junior circuit. He should be at Doral. This week is the start of long, lonely journey back.