A three-time winner on the European Tour, Nick Dougherty has proved himself equally adept in front of the cameras in a second career that promises to be the making of the man – a consummate professional with the confidence and repartee that not only engages his audience but adds a playful, refreshing vibe to Sky Sports’ coverage. After nine years travelling the globe as a player, 36-year-old Dougherty is now into his fourth season as a presenter and analyst with golf’s most innovative broadcaster – and it’s a role that suits one of the game's most likable personalities to a tee. Editor Richard Simmons caught up with Nick ahead of this year's Open
By Richard Simmons
In his element: after 10 years on tour, England’s Nick Dougherty has found his niche with Sky Sports and is widely regarded as one of golf’s most likeable and knowledgeable analysts
The ‘Open Zone’ has been one of the most successful of recent innovations - and you clearly relish the banter with the fans. Life is good?
Yes, I’m loving being a part of the Sky Sports team and really enjoy getting out in front of the fans – especially during the Open Championship. The role I have suits me perfectly as it gives me a great blend of work and family time. The difference when you are playing this game for a living is that you never really switch off from the day job. But with TV, when the red light goes off, that’s it. Job done. I can go back to being a dad and that’s what I really like. It’s a normal life. And with a young family now that’s important.
You were a full-time golfer from a relatively young age and a touring professional for over 10 years – do you miss the competitive element?
I really don’t. It’s funny, I actually feel guilty saying that. I just don’t miss being a tour player at all. I still love playing golf, don’t get me wrong. And I love being involved with the professional game in my role with Sky Sports, travelling with and being around the players, but I don’t ever get that feeling of missing out. It’s strange. I think I should have those feelings but I don’t.
Was there a single moment you can identify in your career that you actually thought to yourself, ‘You know this is just not working out, it’s time to walk away...’?
I think a big part of the problem I had with my game during the latter years of my playing career was simply that I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and I wasn’t playing well either. The two pretty much go hand in hand. If this makes any sense at all, at the end I just had this burning desire of wanting to play well for one week, so I could prove something, and then walk away.
I made the decision that my last tournament would be the Dunhill Links in 2015 as I felt St Andrews was the right place to call time on it all. Not only do I have great memories of winning the Dunhill in 2007 but Di and I were married in St Andrews, so it felt right. But if I can rewind a couple of years back, the moment that I knew it was over occured at Fancourt. I was standing on the 17th tee and I knew I was about to be disqualified for running out of golf balls – I couldn’t keep it on the planet with my driver! And I had this overwhelming sense of relief at not having to post a score in the upper 90s! I remember seeing my ball disappear into the jungle and thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s good. I’m finished!’
"I was standing on the 17th tee and I knew I was about to be disqualified for running out of golf balls – I couldn’t keep it on the planet with my driver!"
That really was a horrible point in my career. So, to fast-forward to the Dunhill Links in 2015, and to finish 29th, it was like winning again! When I reflect on it all now, I think my dissatisfaction started in Germany in ’09 when I won the BMW Championship, my third and final tour event. It just didn’t fulfil me as much as it should of done. A lot of that has to do with my mum passing away suddenly in 2008 and the fact she was no longer around for me to make proud, if that makes sense.
Rather like Rich Beem you appear to have made a seamless transition to the TV studio – the playing background obviously helps?
The playing background is a massive asset and the key, really, is that the players trust me. I love the game and I love talking about it. The creativity at Sky Sports at the moment is fantastic. The Open Zone has been a massive success, where we invite players to talk through their golf swing and demonstrate their skills. It’s so important that golf interacts with the fans. It’s a fun job and the bit I really like is it’s a completely different skill set.
Who has been your main inspiration as a broadcaster, who have you learned from?
David Livingstone has been incredible. There are an awful lot of good people at Sky to advise you but I have always admired David and so I asked him a lot of questions when I started and he has been incredibly supportive. I’ll give you an example. I was due to interview Jack Nicklaus at The Memorial this year and I was nervous as hell. I’m not nervous around many players but Jack is Jack and I wanted to be prepared. I asked David if he had any advice for me – how do I get the best of Jack Nicklaus in a one-on-one situation? Twenty-four hours later I get this email from David offering me all sorts of advice and insight, the style of questioning, the importance of making and maintaining eye contact, and so on. He told me that Jack likes to be chatted with, to engage with him, to create a conversation and to be interested in his answers rather than looking down at your notes for the next question! It must have taken David an hour to write this email and it goes to show the class of the man.
Is there any comparison between playing and broadcasting in terms of feeling pressure?
It’s identical. The fear of failure, the pressure of getting things wrong when the camera comes to you, like the 1st tee, going blank, wanting to produce your best performance, the pressure of wanting to be perfect – terrible for TV, terrible for golf! You try too hard – exactly as you do in golf. That’s what I have learned. Whether it’s golf or TV you’re in the wrong job if you’re looking for perfection. With golf I used to have these negative thoughts and they would take a hold on me. The best players develop technique to bat away negative emotion, and replace it with positive karma. That’s what separates the top guys.
"With golf I used to have these negative thoughts and they would take a hold on me. The best players develop technique to bat away negative emotion, and replace it with positive karma. That’s what separates the top guys."
What’s it like working with your other half, Di?
It’s great. We don’t actually work together on set most weeks – the Open being the exception. We met when I was a player, so to speak(!) and she was presenting. I was given the heads up that she might be quite keen and so I asked her out for a drink, which thankfully she was up for. It was a slow burner but all good. We both love the travel and we are apart a lot, which I kind of like. It’s funny, as a golfer you get used to a life of having your own space. That’s no reflection on Di...it’s just the way that I am after the career I had. I’m a very lucky man. We have two kids – Bridgette is three in December and Max is six – and between the two of us and juggling nannies we just about cope. It’s a balancing act. My little boy, Max, gets upset and is now just starting to ask why I am going – it tears my heart out. I can’t imagine still playing and being on the road for a month. That’s a tough gig for all tour players who have a young family.
What’s life all about away from golf?
Di is really into health and fitness and so we are both gym bunnies. We do loads with the kids. Di loves rambling, walking the countryside and so on. I don’t, particularly, but I show willing! I’m on the road for 16 weeks a year so home time is precious and it’s all about the kids and what they want to do. We live in Sunningdale and occasionally pop up and play the par-three course at Wentworth. Max loves that and I get the same thrill any dad does taking his son to play golf.
“I have to say I absolutely love the Lynx brand and the values the company upholds in the industry. It’s a family-owned business and I’m proud to be an ambassador. The muscleback blades were a revelation when I first tried them – I was calling the numbers and I can honestly say I’ve never struck my irons better.”
How did your tie-in with Lynx Golf come about?
I was a Callaway player my whole career and they were great. But when Di – who is a Lynx ambassador – suggested that I take a look at their gear and try it I thought, why not? I went out and put the whole range to the test. I like to use blades and the Lynx muscleback is amazing. And then there’s the Black Cat driver which is as long as anything I’ve ever hit. I can honestly tell you that my iron striking has never really been better – with a blade you can call numbers, and be within a couple of yards. I genuinely love the product and what Lynx as a brand stands for. The niche market, in my mind, is the kid’s gear – it is absolutely fantastic. The custom-build aspect of it is very impressive. We are all aware of the importance of having clubs that are the right length and weight so that kids can get off to a good start in the game and Lynx make it very easy to get that aspect of your purchase right. It’s affordable, too. In terms of growing the game do we really expect new players to fork out £500 on a set of clubs? Di would kill me if I didn’t say the ladies gear is fantastic too! Di loves it as much for the colour coding as she does the performance! Anyone old enough to remember the ‘Boom Boom’ days of Fred Couples in the 1980s and 90s will know the power of the brand.