2006: Golf’s ‘golden child’ grows up
Virginia Water, England
Nick Dougherty was known as the Golden Child when he was playing amateur golf, the prodigal son of the English amateur scene. Many in the British game are hoping he heralds a golden age of British professional golf.
To say the British newspapers are salivating over the prospects of Dougherty reaching the top is a bit of an understatement. Not only is he young, talented and stylish, with charisma in spades, he loves the limelight and his news conferences make for good copy. During the BMW Championship at Wentworth, he went as far as sharing his dreams, and revealing stories about his overbearing dad, Roger.
The media lapped it up, and the more they lapped, the more Dougherty revealed. For example, he openly admitted he goes to sleep most nights dreaming of winning the British Open.
“Hallelujah,” was the silent, collective response from the British scribes covering the Championship.
Roy Case, chairman of selectors for the English Golf Union’s under-18 teams, first saw Dougherty as a 13-year-old and recognized a rare talent.
“He had this determination and a single-mindedness to succeed that I’ve seen in few boys over the years,” Case said. “I remember when we won the World Boys Championship in Japan in 1999, Nick needed to make a 4 down the last to win us the championship and he did just that, going on to take the individual title. You could always rely on him coming through in the crunch.”
Dougherty, from Liverpool, caught Nick Faldo’s eye when he cleaned up in the former Masters and British Open champion’s Faldo Junior Series. The six-time major winner took Dougherty under his wing, and gave him the benefit of his vast wisdom.
Dougherty turned pro in 2001 to great fanfare after helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup at Sea Island, Ga. He took the European Tour’s Sir Henry Cotton rookie-of-the-year award in 2002. Instead of spurring him on to work harder, the riches went to his head. He chased females rather than fame, spent time in nightclubs rather than with golf clubs. The work ethic his father and Faldo had instilled in him disappeared as soon as he started earning money.
Young Nick was living “La Vida Loca.”
“In the early years I was a young man away from home, and I had cash in my back pocket,” Dougherty explained. “Sure I enjoyed myself, what young guy wouldn’t? But I didn’t carry on the work ethic my dad had given me. I basically struggled the first few years because I took everything for granted. I know now you can’t do that in this game, not at this level.”
While Dougherty partied, his peers practiced. When British newspapers and magazines were hailing the new generation of young English golfers such as Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, Dougherty’s name always was tacked on the end.
He was in danger of becoming an afterthought.
Those two years of partying and living the high life saw Dougherty go backward in the European pecking order. From 36th on the money list in 2002 he placed 60th and 97th the following years but suddenly saw the light.
He rededicated himself to his game in 2005 and got his just rewards with victory in the Caltex Masters in Singapore. He won the title in style, too, playing with Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie in the final round and emerging a five-shot winner.
Dougherty, who turned 24 May 24, played in his first U.S. Open last year and will tee it up at Winged Foot later this month. He also will play in this year’s British Open and is on course to make a return appearance in the PGA Championship. He wants to follow in the footsteps of Donald, Casey and Poulter.
“I feel I’ve served my apprenticeship if you like, and my goal is now to compete in majors,” he said. “It’s what everybody aims for. I’d also certainly like to play more PGA Tour events. I’ve got great belief in myself and feel I can compete against the best.”
Donald played in that 2001 Walker Cup with Dougherty and reckons his younger compatriot now has the desire to reach the top level.
“He seems to have a great will to succeed and be successful,” Donald said.
Donald’s opinion is backed by Dougherty’s own immense self-belief.
“The biggest thing I could ever achieve in my life, with the exception of hopefully being married and having children, would be to win major championships, in particular the Open Championship,” he said.
“You keep thinking about things like that and you really do start to believe it, and it becomes possible. It’s feasible that it could happen. I dream about it most nights.”
From Golden Child to golden slumbers, Dougherty is desperate to follow in Faldo’s footsteps. Suffice it to say, there’s a good chance of him reverting to party animal if he wins the British Open at Hoylake near his hometown. But if his goal truly is to win majors, look for Dougherty to continue his celebration on the practice ground.