Golf has lost one of its good guys. With a lump in his throat, Nick Dougherty called time this week on his playing career. It was the right place and right time. St Andrews is where Dougherty enjoyed one of the highlights of his career, winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2007. His marriage to Di Stewart, the well-known sports broadcaster, also took place in the Auld Grey Toun on New Year’s Eve in 2010.
Playing the game is no longer what gives Dougherty a kick. But talking about his beloved sport in front of a camera certainly does. He’s now an accomplished member of the Sky Sports golf team.
“Friday at St Andrews was quite emotional,” admitted Dougherty, who had hoped to be back there today for one last hurrah but saw his European Tour career come to an end instead at Carnoustie, where the 34-year-old carded a respectable 73 but bowed out of this year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship following the 54-hole cut. “Playing 17 and 18 was pretty awesome actually. I didn’t think I’d get particularly emotional about it, especially with it being the second round, but it was very much so. It was hard to keep focus.
“It’s not just about golf this place for me. Di and I got married here, as a kid I used to come here with my mum and dad for holidays most years. It’s just been a very special place and it’s been good to me in terms of winning the Dunhill. So it just felt like the right place to stop playing.”
The Liverpudlian, who turned professional in 2001, recorded three European Tour triumphs before losing his card after missing 20 cuts in a row in a wretched 2011 season. To his credit, he swallowed his pride and returned to the coal-face on the Challenge Tour, but the playing “buzz” has long gone. He’s much happier standing in front of the “Sky Cart” than a big crowd.
“A few weeks ago I went out to hit a few balls and after about 15 I thought ‘what am I doing?’ I had no interest in it,” he admitted. “The buzz of wanting to be a Tour player, which I used to live for, is a long way down the order now. When I turn up to play a tournament, even when I play well like I did here last year, I don’t miss it that badly.
“I get much more of a buzz doing what I did last week for Sky at the Ryder Cup. Intellectually it ticks the boxes for me and it challenges me in a way that ruins you as a golfer. A mind that’s too active and wants to get into the nitty-gritty of things is definitely not productive for a golfer – I’ve learned that from watching some of these top players over these last couple of years.
“It’s time to move on and maybe that’s what golf has been telling me for the last few years. I threw everything at it for a few years and didn’t get any better. I can still play great golf and hold my own out there but I’m a bit fragile and confidence isn’t where it used to be. So, from now on it will just be about enjoying the game for what it is and building a completely different career, even though it’s still in the same sport.”
“I knew the decision was coming; it was just a matter of when. I wrestled with it for a long time because part of me felt almost guilty for doing it. But it seems I have a skill in another area and I really enjoy it.”