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Just because you were a good player, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be a good presenter or commentator in your given sport. Nick Dougherty enjoyed a playing career that most golfers could only dream of, but when form deserted him on the course, he was able to become one of the best and most recognisable broadcasters off it. To have just one of those careers is impressive, but despite all of his accomplishments, the 39-year-old’s journey hasn’t been an easy one.
Dougherty was a stand-out amateur and a protege of Sir Nick Faldo. He won the 1999 World Boys Championship and three Faldo Junior Series events and was part of the victorious Walker Cup team in 2001. So it was with great fanfare and expectation that he turned pro just a few weeks/months after that event. He was the next big thing in British golf.
Everything was rosy early on as he was named Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on the European Tour in 2002. His progress was derailed by glandular fever the next season, but he got his first pro win in the 2005 Caltex Open at the age of just 22, taking down European golf legends Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn in the process.
He was beginning to fulfil his vast potential, and a couple of years later he was teeing it up alongside Tiger Woods in round three of the 2007 US Open at the notorious Oakmont – which will host America's national championship in 2025 – where he was in contention.
“My biggest achievement, and something I’d love to do again, was playing with Tiger at the US Open,” Dougherty reflects. “It was a great week for me as well because I’d led the US Open after the first day. To see him in his prime, in the tournaments he really wanted to win, the Majors, was a truly remarkable experience. It was awesome. He was phenomenal that day.”
Dougherty would ultimately finish tied for 7th, his best result in the 14 Majors he played. It was another step in the right direction, and he got another win at the Dunhill Links four months later. Early the next year, he made his debut at Augusta National, where he enjoyed the most special experience of his playing career.
“The Masters is the one that stands out as most special for me, purely because I did it once. But also, Augusta is like Disney World when you’re a child. For a golf fan, it’s the Holy Grail. When you walk over the hill for the first time and look down at Amen Corner, you think ‘wow’. It’s incredible,” he says.
“Also, my mum and dad came to that one. My dad didn’t generally watch me play because he found it hard to not get too involved – typical, like a very driven father who wants the best for their child. But being a Scouser from the wrong side of the tracks, he fought for everything in his life, so he was quite bullish with me. So we tended to stay apart as I got on tour and he left me to it because he couldn’t handle it, living and dying on every shot, which I can relate to now as a parent.
“But he came to that one and we had some lovely moments. The reason I say it was so special was I gave my mum and dad a hug on the back of the 18th on Sunday and that was the last time I hugged my mum. The next week I was in contention at Harbour Town and she had a heart attack. The next minute we’re there at the bedside turning the machine off and she passes away. It’s something quite ironic for a golfing family to have had this wonderful moment where she got to see a coming together with me and my dad, after all the butting of heads we’d had, on the grandest of stages.”
While Dougherty did get his third and final victory at the following year’s BMW International Open, the tragic loss of his mother was really the beginning of the end for his playing days. “It was big to win again and it felt like it was for her, although ironically in the long run it turned out to not be a good thing because it shone a light on how insignificant golf had become compared to my life,” he admits.
There were problems on the course, as well. A big miss right started to creep into Dougherty’s game and his form declined. “It became a thing where I was doing it twice a round and both times were lost balls. I’m not that good to give four strokes head start to everyone – not many are – so I started to miss cuts. It was awful, and the bit that was really hard was everyone treating me like I was sick. I just wanted people to leave me alone. It got really dark.”
Unfortunately, the mental demons took over on the course – “fear, absolute fear. As much as it’s just golf, it wasn’t, it was all-consuming” – and he lost his European Tour card after making just one cut in 32 events during the 2011 season. He battled on for a few years before retiring from playing in 2016. But as one chapter ended, another exciting one began.
“One thing I was always very proud of was that throughout all of it, every single day I woke up believing it’d be the day I fix it. As much as I couldn’t fix it, and I had lots of failings, my resilience to just go again wasn’t one of them. The hardest thing for me was to stop playing, because it’s not in my nature to be like that, I give everything. But thank god I made a decision to change tack in my life,” he says.
Dougherty embarked on a broadcasting career at Sky Sports under the tutelage of long-time front man David Livingstone, with the aim of taking the reins when he decided to retire. The transition has been a smooth one on the surface, but a huge amount of work has gone into it behind the scenes, with a talented team around Dougherty and Livingstone always just a phone call away.
“The bit I love about presenting is that it’s a completely different job to being a golfer. To thrust yourself into a brand-new career at my age, I liked it. I could reinvent myself and also separate myself a little bit from my dad, because as long back as I can remember it was more his goal than mine. I don’t remember wanting to be a tour player, I just remember ending up on that path. Whereas this was my choice. I think it was the best thing that could have ever happened for me,” he adds.
The biggest moment of Dougherty’s broadcasting career so far was fronting the Ryder Cup coverage at Whistling Straits. “To do that, and do it justice, to stand on that 1st tee and deliver that opening line in vision off the titles, it’s a lot of pressure. That’s just like the pressure I used to feel. That was the challenge.
“When I was a kid, the pressure of what expectation was, I thought I thrived on it. Once you’ve had enough scars in life – whatever you do – it becomes harder because you go, ‘are you going to thrive, or are you going to fall over because that’s what happened last time when the golf didn’t go so well?’ There’s a part of you that thinks ‘what if I do that?’ Obviously, the bigger the moment, the more that comes,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, Dougherty rose to that moment – as he has to every challenge that’s come his way in front of the camera. He might not be on our TV screens for the reasons he would have thought when he was breaking through as a player, but Dougherty has become a firm fixture and favourite at the forefront of golf broadcasting.
Many would argue he’s turned himself into a better broadcaster than he was a player – and he was a damn good one in his heyday.
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Kit Alexander is a golf broadcaster and journalist who commentates and presents for the DP World Tour, PGA EuroPro Tour and Rose Ladies Series. He has over 15 years’ experience of magazine and television work in the golf industry and is a regular contributor to Golf Monthly.
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