Nick Dougherty: The remaking of 'Little Nick' on the hard road to respect

He felt the world was turning against him, but Faldo's protégé is now making major advances. Andy Farrell hears about the transformation
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The Independent Online

Nick Dougherty had not had the most taxing day. He watched some of the golf from sweltering Malaysia over breakfast, did some laundry, some tidying up and cooked lunch for his girlfriend. "It's not boring at all," he said. "It's great just to chill out and do some normal things."

Nick Dougherty had not had the most taxing day. He watched some of the golf from sweltering Malaysia over breakfast, did some laundry, some tidying up and cooked lunch for his girlfriend. "It's not boring at all," he said. "It's great just to chill out and do some normal things."

This is not quite what you expect from a personable young man who has nevertheless managed to gain for himself the reputation as the party boy of the European Tour. Is this changing? "Before, when I had time out, I wanted to get the most out of the places we've been on Tour or go on holiday. It's not as important any more. It's nice to be able to relax with people close to you. It's growing up a little bit."

There has been a lot of growing up recently. Dougherty has made his mistakes. Who wouldn't at the age of 22? But how many young sportsmen are ready to admit they have made mistakes, realise they need to make their own mistakes before seeing sense, endeavour not to make the same ones twice and do something about it?

"I have been through a lot of different things," he admitted. "I wouldn't change any of them because I wouldn't know what I know now. My knowledge now is so much greater. I know I don't want to go back there. There was a time when it was important to me that people saw I was a young lad having a great time. But I would be a fool to make the same mistakes twice. I'm 22 and I have figured it out."

The transition from talented amateur, "Little Nick", the protégé of Nick Faldo, to achieving professional came at the end of January when Dougherty, at the start of his fourth season on Tour, won his maiden title, the Caltex Masters in Singapore. It was a superbly assured performance. Playing alongside Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn over the last 36 holes, Dougherty won by five strokes. As fierce a competitor as he proved himself on the course, he also showed he can charm the gallery and the media.

"The best night out I have had in my life was the Sunday in Singapore," he said. "It wasn't a big night, I was just sitting in a bar and everyone was coming up to me. You think, 'You've done it'. To have the respect of the other players is so satisfying."

Earning the respect of fellow Tour professionals is achieved only by hard work. They were the first to know something was changing. Otherwise, Dougherty was the rookie of the year from 2002 whose golf suffered from the effects of glandular fever the following year. He was also determined to enjoy the lifestyle that money and travel brought. He earned the nickname from the caddies of "George", as in Best. That he knew Faldo was probably tutting away somewhere was no restraint.

As an amateur, Dougherty's father, Roger, and Faldo had been his guiding lights. Some consider Roger to be a typical pushy parent but, as with Tiger Woods and his father, Dougherty does not have a bad word to say about his dad. Gaining one of the country's greatest-ever players as a mentor happened after he won the inaugural Faldo Junior Series. Now he needed to stand on his own two feet.

"Nick Faldo is great," Dougherty said. "He gave me a lot while I was growing up. He will always be a hero of mine. I was very fortunate to meet him. He is less involved now; he's got his career, I've got mine. But he is always ready to give advice, and he was one of the first to text me in Singapore. He appreciates how hard I am working. He lets me get on with it. I think he is comfortable with the knowledge that I am doing things the right way."

Step one in the rehabilitation was when Dougherty started working with David Leadbetter in November 2003. "David had a different way of looking at things. There was a lot to change but I liked it. There were massive changes. I didn't expect how bad my game would get in order to make the changes. I might not have been so enthusiastic if I had known how long it was going to take, how badly I was going to play and how close I was going to come to losing my card.

"I struggled and I got very down. Things started going wrong in my personal life. It was all self-inflicted but in my head it was like the world was turning against me, that this is the worst job in the world. If you said that to a guy working on a building site he would knock your head off."

Salvation came in the form of a mental coach, Jamil Quireshi, whose techniques include hypnotherapy. "When I first met him, he knew nothing about golf. Most of the work we do is about my personal life. By creating balance in my personal life he allowed me to get balance in my pro-fessional career. I have got clarity over everything I do now.

"He puts me in a state of relaxation. I am conscious and hear everything and remember everything. But it takes the emotions out of everything you feel. It takes you out of your decisions. You get a completely unbiased view. It's like thinking about someone else's decisions. I am one of those people who doesn't realise something until I have done it myself. Most of the mistakes I have made people have told me about, my dad usually, many times.

"In Singapore, Jamil helped me the night before the final round. He was saying I was good enough to beat these guys. But then you think, 'Monty's won seven Order Of Merits, Thomas is playing great'. But he made the point that as I had 'beaten' them on the third day, why couldn't I do it again? He leaves you with a very positive outlook."

But back last summer, Dougherty was still waiting for positive things to happen. Montgomerie mentioned how much his swing had improved. Paul McGinley told him to "stick at it". "It means a lot when those guys say things like that." Finally, at the German Masters in September, he secured his Tour card and gained the belief that he needed to work even harder over the winter.

There was still something else to address. "I am great for rumours out on the Tour. Some of the things I am supposed to have done are fantastic. That is the nature of the Tour. It's good fun. You have to take it on the chin. But some of the stuff that was written about me I didn't like. Someone said did I really have glandular fever, as if I had made it up. People questioned my commitment.

"But it is part of sport. There are not always great things to write about you. I couldn't say anything because I didn't have the results to back it up. But at the end of the season, when I was in the press centre a couple of times and people asked me to explain all the hard work I had been doing, that was very satisfying."

At the end of last year, Dougherty teamed up again with his old fitness adviser, Ron Cuthbert, a martial arts expert. "I have got a great team around me now," Dougherty said. "We are all working together. It's important to have people you trust and who are unwavering in their belief. I cannot think of any other player who has a better team.

"I have got very different goals from this time last year. Then I wanted to let the swing changes settle in and keep my card. Well, I just kept my card. This year, as high as my aspirations are, I have started to achieve them. Now I have won once, I am not about to relax. It's a great opportunity. I know I can beat the best players on any given day but if it doesn't happen, then I am still learning.

"I am enjoying playing golf again. I appreciate when I should be working hard, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that, and also when to relax. I was very fortunate, the win might not have come for another six months, but it was like someone up there said, 'Let him see it is the right choice'."

Dougherty is younger than some of his countrymen who have already reached Ryder Cup status, but ahead of the latest batch of talented amateurs who have just turned professional. If good things are promised for British and European golf over the next decade or so, have no doubt that Dougherty intends to be at the forefront. His latest role models are right at the top of the game, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

"I love Tiger because I think that he stands for everything that a golfer should aspire to achieve. But Ernie is the man. The way he lives his life he is the perfect role model. He has so much fun, he's so laid- back, nothing bothers him. I have been fortunate enough to spend a little bit of time in his company recently and I envy how relaxed he is. He is very professional but he has a bit of fun. I have never heard a derogatory comment about Ernie Els. What would you say? That he walks too slowly? He has got it sussed. His priorities in life come first. Nothing comes in front of him and his family."


Nick Dougherty

Born: 24 May 1982, Liverpool.

Amateur career: Aged six won his first event - an under-14s tournament at North Berwick. Faldo Junior Series champion 1997, 1999, 2000. European Under-21 champion 1999. World Boys champion 1999. Australian International Amateur champion 2001. Member of the victorious 2001 Walker Cup team at Sea Island.

Professional career: Turned pro in 2001 (handicap plus four). European Tour rookie of the year in 2002. Runner-up in the 2002 Qatar Masters and the 2003 Scandinavian Masters. Earned his maiden Tour victory at the 2005 Caltex Masters in Singapore.