GIVEN its tranquil setting, it should perhaps be no surprise to see heavily-pregnant wives out walking the fairways of Spey Valley offering support to spouses competing in the Scottish Hydro Challenge. Twelve months ago, it was Di Dougherty; this week it’s Jocelyn Doherty.
The latter is due to give birth in early September and her presence in Aviemore has, thus far at least, had an inspirational effect on husband Jack, the 31-year-old Australian-born Scot who has taken route 66, firing a brace of five-under-par efforts, to put himself in contention at the halfway stage in the £190,000 event.
Without Mrs Doherty in attendance, the former Australian Amateur champion was one-over for his opening seven holes in the second round after starting at the 11th. “But I had six birdies from when she arrived at the 18th,” reported Doherty, who now lives in Kilmarnock, after tucking himself in behind the leader, Swede Jens Dantrop, in the Highlands. With earnings of just over £1,300 from four starts on the second-tier circuit thus far this season, Doherty, one of the Team Scottish Hydro members in the field, is hoping a gameplan that has seen him drop a single shot in 36 holes will help secure a timely career-best pay-day tomorrow, when the winner will walk away with a cheque for around £30,000.
“I’m using my 3-iron off the tee a lot, as it’s one of those courses where you’ve got a half chance if you can keep it in position,” he said, pointing to the seventh, a 432-yard par-4, as an example of how his strategic play has been paying off. “I’ve decided to lay up on that hole,” added Doherty. “I hit 5-iron off the tee and today hit a 6-iron approach to three feet for a good birdie.”
Having visited the European Tour Qualifying School on 11 occasions since turning pro a decade ago, progress hasn’t exactly been instant for Doherty – whose younger brother, Jack, was also in the field this week but missed the cut – in the paid ranks. “But I know what I can do and it’s frustrating I can’t bring it out more often,” he declared.
On another idyllic day in the shadow of the Cairngorms, Dantorp, a 24-year-old from Malmo, moved into the lead with a second 65, a 12-under-par total giving him a one-shot advantage over joint-overnight leader Alan Dunbar (69), with Englishman Sam Walker, a two-time winner of the event, lurking ominously alongside Doherty, South Korean Byeong-hun An, who followed his opening 62 with a less sparkling 70, and a clutch of others in joint-third.
“The course fits my eye,” admitted Dantorp, who, after also setting out at the 11th, laid the foundations for his round with a burst of four birdies in five holes from the 14th. “It’s clear what you have to do. You can see the fairway clearly and the heather is almost purple, so you can see where you need to hit it.”
Helping point Tom Murray, a 23-year-old Mancunian, in the right direction this week is his father Andrew, who won the European Open in 1989. “Dad is caddying for me for the first time this week and has helped a lot,” said Murray Jnr, after signing for a 65 to sit in the group on ten-under. “I think he was more nervous than me at the start, but he’s been great with reading the putts and picking the right clubs.”
Also lying two off the pace is Grantown-on-Spey’s Duncan Stewart, who bagged four birdies in a flawless 68 as he stayed on course for what would certainly be a popular victory in this neck of the mountains. The home contingent heading into the weekend also a includes a posse on five-under, headed by Jamie McLeary, winner here in 2009.
While the casualties included Fifer George Murray – the champion two years ago – who missed out by a shot on two-under and three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty, husband of the aforementioned Di, one player delighted to be around for the weekend is Irishman Colm Moriarty.
Playing in his first event in nine months, having decided to “hang up the clubs for a while”, the 34-year-old former Walker Cup player from Athlone was yet another to card a 65 as he moved into the top 20 on eight-under. “I was not surviving out here when I was spending £1,500 a week,” said Moriarty, who won the Welsh equivalent in 2007, of his sabbatical. “My view was that I was better off spending time away [from the game] as I was not in a right place mentally.”