Nick Dougherty’s journey from future Major champion to the Challenge Tour
AS Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell prepare to tee up in the Masters at Augusta, one of their former Walker Cup team-mates will be hundreds of miles away assessing the start he has made to his new career on the Challenge Tour.
While Donald and McDowell contemplate subsequent trips to the Olympic Club, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Kiawah Island and the Ryder Cup at Medinah, their former amateur colleague, Nick Dougherty, will be setting his sights somewhat lower, planning visits to far-flung golfing outposts in Kenya, Russia and Kazakhstan as part of his attempt to regain his playing privileges on the European Tour.
Last year Dougherty, a three-time tour winner, suffered what can only be described a catastrophic loss of form, resulting in him losing his European Tour card.
While his 2001 Walker Cup colleagues McDowell and Donald respectively enjoyed their status as reigning US Open champion and rose to the No 1 spot on the world ranking, the 29-year-old from the north west of England saw his career completely fall apart.
I will be awaiting the results from the Challenge Tour with a little more interest than normal. And, I suspect, I will by no means be alone.
It is difficult to exaggerate the heartache Dougherty suffered while
amassing just €10,000 and dropping to a lowly 268th on the Order of
The statistics make gruesome reading and provide a stark contrast to the rags-to-riches stories we tend to read more about.
In 34 starts Dougherty made just one cut, up in the mountains at
Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, and there, as if to rub salt in his
wounds, the gloss was taken off his achievement by having to endure a TV
interview with his wife, the former Sky presenter, Di Stewart.
Neither, it can be assumed, enjoyed that excruciating moment in front of
the cameras, and nor did the episode have a happy ending, because over
the weekend he carded rounds of 72 and 73 to drop well down the field.
There is no doubt Dougherty has his own personal mountain to climb if he
is ever to add to his three tour wins, earned at the 2005 Caltex
Masters, the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Championship and the 2009 BMW
International, and his predicament took a further turn for the worse
when he missed the cut at the subsequent Qualifying School in Spain.
“It has been a terrible year,” he admitted to the Liverpool Echo’s
Richard Williamson, who has followed Dougherty’s career more closely
than most since he won a trio of Faldo Junior titles back in the 1990s
and was feted by the eponymous host as a champion of the future.
“If somebody told me now, ‘this is how you’re going to play for the rest
of your career’, I’d pack it in and do something else, 100 per cent
"But I hold out hope that I can get it back to how it used to be and how it used to feel.”
Dougherty spent the winter recuperating and the good news is he has lost
none of the resolve he showed after his failure in Spain.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go, to be honest, and I have never
played on the Challenge Tour before so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity
I know the standard is high out there though and I don’t expect to go
out and win straightaway… but I think it’s the kind of place where I can
get back to being myself on and off the golf course.
“I’ve been so conscious in recent years of what I was doing, I forgot just to try and enjoy it and just played the game.
“I just need to get back to basics now and remember why I loved the game
in the first place, and I’m getting there now. I feel like I’m more me
Of course, Dougherty is by no means the only golfer to suffer such a
drastic fall from former glory, as the presence of 2001 Open champion,
David Duval, at last year’s US Q School also illustrated only too
There are, in fact, literally dozens of similar examples, but few, I
would argue, who are quite as likeable as the Liverpudlian.
That’s why, this year, I will be awaiting the results from the Challenge
Tour with a little more interest than normal. And, I suspect, I will by
no means be alone.