He is Scottish golf’s forgotten man, having last struck a ball in the heat of battle more than four months ago. Snubbed for invitations so far on the European Tour, where he lost his card at the end of last season, Chris Doak starts his bid to return to the big time by taking a step backwards this week.
The 38-year-old is among five Scots in the line-up for the Barclays Kenya Open in Nairobi, where the second-tier Challenge Tour cranks into action tomorrow at the start of a new campaign comprising 28 different tournaments in 22 countries.
It is Doak’s first outing since the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School last November, when he was forced to retire midway through the second round in Valencia. That was a recurring story as the card he had held for two seasons slipped out of his grasp.
Due to what he eventually discovered was a pinched nerve in his neck that left him with pins and needles in his left hand and swinging with only 30 per cent of his normal grip, the former Tartan Tour No 1 had earlier been unable to complete three of his last five regular events of the season. One was the Dunhill Links Championship, in which he finished fifth in 2014 to claim 71st place in the Race to Dubai, making it to the penultimate event in the Final Series. Dropping to 153rd on the money-list 12 months later left Doak fretting for his future.
“I was hoping for some invitations for the main Tour, but we are 12 tournaments in now and I’ve had nothing,” he said. “I was nowhere near for the first five, so how can I hope I’ll be nearer for the next 25?
“I’ve got to decide whether I play the Challenge Tour full-time or take the chance of trying to write a fairytale story in a European Tour event but end up knackering both opportunities.
“Not playing for more than four months has been tougher mentally more than anything else. I’ve played golf competitively all my days, yet I’ve not been able to do for such a long time now. Doubts start creeping in. Do you want to keep going? Can you really be bothered clawing your way back?
“But I want to do that and it might be the best thing that has ever happened to me as I’ve got a new coach in Alan McCloskey and a new swing to help me get technically better. Alan has put right some errors that had crept into my swing. He’s very much like Bob Torrance’s style of coaching but in a more modern way. He gets your mojo flowing again.
“Bob said to me ‘I’m going to teach you to teach yourself as once you leave this bay the ball is in your court’, and that’s very much what Alan is all about. He’s not the type who will be there all the time to hold your hand.”
Doak won the Lyon Open on the Challenge Tour in 2012, when he finished tenth on the money-list to earn a step up to the main circuit, but has no real idea how he will fare this week at Karen Country Club.
“Last year I was going out thinking ‘maybe this is my week’ because I believed I could win, but I’m going to Kenya with no expectations at all,” he insisted. “I’ve basically spent the last few months chipping and putting and hitting the odd ball here and there.”
In some of the main Tour events so far this season, there have been players competing who hold three different medical exemptions. Doak could probably have safeguarded his place at the top table for another season in a similar vein if he hadn’t been too proud to admit he was fighting a losing battle.
“It’s pointless dwelling on the past but it was a combination of poor decision-making and ego getting in the way,” he admitted.
““I’m not someone who gets ill at all and it was a case of me thinking ‘I can play through it with a sore hand’.
“Coming off at the Dunhill was the hardest. That’s when it sunk in that it’s over, it’s done. But I’ve got the desire to get back to where I feel I belong. I’ve just to got to accept it might not work immediately.
“I guess the last five or six months has been learning about being patient. I’ve been daddy day care (to daughter Eva) for the last five months and have enjoyed that, but I’m ready to get back out there again.”