Nick Dougherty interview: Sky Sports presenter talks Sawgrass, family, his career and more

Nick Dougherty in front of the camera in Abu Dhabi

Golf can be a curmudgeonly thing. Not always do you get the impression that those involved in it are there by choice; some are held against their will, bound to this game because, as chance would have it, they do it really well. When Brooks Koepka says he doesn't watch much golf, there's no reason to doubt him. There's a certain genius to it.

Nick Dougherty is totally the opposite: he loved golf, so he played golf, and when he could no longer play golf (well, relatively speaking), he talked about golf. It's right there in his delivery, and it's why he's made the transition from fairway to studio look easier than it must surely be. If you tune in to Sky Sports of a weekend, you're not just hearing from a 37-year-old who has been there and done it; you're hearing from a fan whose earliest memories of the sport are among his favourite.

Maybe, in 1996, you were doing what he was doing: watching the miraculous unfold as Norman capitulated to a metronomic Faldo. You might not have managed to nurture that sense of inspiration and turn it into a professional career which took you from Woburn to Winged Foot, from the European Masters to the real thing, but otherwise you were not so very different. The hairs stood up just the same.

It's that purity, the power of the television, the transcendental drama of sport, which you sense Dougherty will miss more than most over the coming months. It's the reason he'll happily while away half an hour on the phone with kids nipping at his heels, and it's what drives his professionalism. For someone playing tournament golf at the Old Course as recently as 2016 before switching paths, he sure does walk the walk and, unlike Koepka, it all can be traced back to one thing: a love of the game.

"I try to remember what it would be like for a 14-year-old to watch Tiger win the Masters last year; the goose bumps, the 'oh my god, what am I watching?' We all got to do that last year. It was like going back to being 14 again. I try to remember that," he says on an afternoon of eerie calm which follows a morning of new things: streamed PE classes, whiteboard lessons, and being at home during what would've been a gear-shift in the golfing calendar.

We're speaking less than 24 hours after courses across the UK had been forced to shut down, and there's an element of do-what-you-have-to-do to it all. I'm recording using a network of phones and can't even find a pen in the house for DIY shorthand; he's busy planning a series of Instagram Live sessions, including this Sunday when followers will be able to join him and Thomas Bjorn, live from their own living rooms. The only rule is you have to bring your own Prosecco.

"While (Sky Sports Golf) showing 'Perfection in Paris' I'll do an Instagram Live with Thomas. It lends itself to a different type of broadcasting; I'm at home, he's at home, and he's giving us insights we've never seen before. For me that's quite exciting.

"In terms of ticking that little box, feeling like I'm still working, contributing, making good programming, which I get a real kick out of - I feel I can still get that. These guys are friends of mine, I'll be able to talk to them in a way hopefully people won't have seen before, so it should be fun."

Signing off from Sawgrass

There are ways we can all get our golf fix, scratch that itch, in a world which has never felt smaller. None are perfect (although watching final rounds from Masters past on YouTube comes close) and we ought instead to be reflecting on a PLAYERS Championship notable for drama on the course, rather than being the epicentre of golf's own crisis.

Dougherty was there, and recalls the cadence of the week. It started, as so many in his life do, watching TV in a hotel room where Chris Cuomo was channeling his inner Butch Harmon and looking the viewer in the eye. Except this was serious. Too serious, Dougherty thought.

"I'm thinking 'this guy is off his rocker!' - it all felt so over the top, because we were only going off what we'd been drip-fed, and what we'd heard from the president. It was all being played down, and of course numbers in the US were skewed because they didn't have the test kits. There just wasn't any massive panic."

Things began to change rapidly throughout the world - it seems remarkable now to think that the Cheltenham Festival went ahead here in the UK - but golf has always operated at a different rhythm, comfortable in its own skin. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan felt that it was safe to proceed, and he was not alone.

"There was a feeling that we'll be fine," recalls Dougherty. "We'll get through this and weather the storm, and then we can worry about next week. Then it suddenly became very, very real.

"I actually went to sleep on Thursday night before the announcement. I was woken up by my director the next morning seeing if I was ready to go to the course at 6.15. I didn't know what he was talking about, and of course they'd decided to call it off. They'd done the right thing.

"From the moment we knew there was an issue, our boss was making sure we were comfortable even being there. They made sure they were following the right protocol and our safety was paramount - over and above the programming. It was a huge team effort; we all came together and made this programme, while other people on the ground were making sure we could all get home safely that evening.

"We were on a flight that night at six o'clock, on our way home. It happened so quickly - if you don't get out that night, there's no guarantee president Trump won't shut the border before tomorrow night, so we were legitimately worried about getting home to our families.

"It was a big concern for us. It all happened very quickly. We were all a bit shocked. Even now, when I watch the news, I don't truly know the ins and outs - I'm only ever taking information from what people are telling me on the news channels. There are all these really important questions rattling round and we still don't know the answers.

"I think that explains the naivety of some of the younger people who don't think it's a problem for them. I'm not sure they truly grasp it - I don't believe we're inherently evil and want to cause problems. I just don't believe some of these young people have cottoned onto the dangers."

Amid the strangely quiet chaos of that Friday at Sawgrass, as players collected their things and awaited news on rearranged flights, it was Bernd Wiesberger who found the right note. Back in the big time at last, the Austrian nevertheless had no interested in indulging himself; he knew this was bigger than any sport, any tournament, and talked about getting home to help out elderly relatives.

He wasn't alone. Billy Horschel showed nothing of the disappointment he'll have felt at having his hometown event cancelled, while Matt Wallace stayed on to offer his support to a community which had been preparing to both contribute to and feel the benefits of a high-profile tournament. Some of us felt uneasy hearing Monahan appear to prioritise paying his players that day, but the players themselves helped push that to one side.

"I think we're lucky in our sport," says Dougherty. "Pretty much across the board - bar the odd one - we have guys who are experts in their trade, but they can switch from 'eat, sleep, breathe' the sport, believing it's everything because they have to, to stepping back and seeing the bigger picture - that this is insignificant to real life.

"Rory McIlroy's golf, Tiger Woods' golf, they're insignificant. Who cares? We all love it, it pushes those buttons in us, but it doesn't really matter. The greatest day of my career was when I played with Tiger Woods, but it wouldn't make my top 20 days on this earth."

Dougherty tees off alongside Tiger Woods

Adapting to being 'still'

Dougherty will miss being a part of it all, but I'm not sure he'll find it hard - despite being 'forced to be still', something he says is alien to him. He seems the type of man to find opportunity in everything, whether that's meeting Faldo a year after he'd seen him hit that shot, putting relationships and leaning on the expertise of his wife to make a successful transition to television, or, as is now the case, learning what it's like to be a stay-at-home dad with the extra responsibility of playing teacher for a while - and not via his 'tee-time tips' instructional videos.

"Do I have anything to do other than be here and be now, to steal an Oasis line, with my kids, embracing my family life? No I don't. I'm away for half the year usually, and now I have to be here. It's strange, there's so many wonderful things that can still come from this.

"Space, my own health and theirs... we're doing the Joe Wicks workouts, then I do mine after that. I get to help my kids and teach my kids with all their schooling. From a selfish point of view, a good thing can come from a bad thing; it makes me very uncomfortable, because I feel a bit caged and trapped, but it's a chance for me to be still, read more books, gain more knowledge."

If one thing comes easy to Dougherty - and he'll tell you, it certainly hasn't always been golf - then it's adapting. Like Faldo had to, over that shot, that day, at Augusta National.

"My manager said to me, when we were talking about doing an Instagram Live with Nick, 'all he has to do is request to join, click on that, super easy.' I said 'mate, it's super easy to you - Nick is not a young man now. Could you hit a two-iron, ball above your feet, to a par-five, in the final round, when you're trying to win the Masters?'

"He said of course not, but Nick found that quite easy."

Dougherty has had more than his share of struggles, on and off the course, but he's always found a way through. When professional golf does return, and he's back in front of a camera, two things seem certain: that he'll be ready, and that he'll have made the most of his time away.


More from Nick Dougherty...

Favourite tournament commentated on...

"The 2019 Masters. Just because it's such a special place; to be there, to present my first Masters, and commentate, when Tiger won... (briefly lost for words). I'm the biggest fan going, but I'd given up hope. To see it happen and to present that was a dream come true for my career."

Favourite tournament played in...

"The Masters. It was the last time I got to see my mum. To make the cut in my first Masters, it was amazing; it felt like the happiest place on earth to be. Bucket list doesn't do it justice - you say places like Cypress Point or Pebble Beach are bucket list, well this is beyond that. It's Holy Grail stuff. And because of the nature of it - it was the last time I saw my mum, she had a heart attack the next week when I was playing at Harbour Town - I will never forget it. Really special.

"All the Opens were special - majors for me were just different. The US Open was my favourite challenge; it was so brutal, and I enjoy the brutality of it. 'Golf is not a fair game, so why should I design a fair golf course' is a favourite quote of mine from Pete Dye, and it's so true: golf is not a fair game, but that's the beauty of it."

Favourite interviewee...

"Rory would be right there, because of his brutal honesty; he doesn't shy away, he never straight-bats anything. It's one thing to be a world-class player; to have something worth hearing as well is a whole different thing. Rory matches his game on the course with his game off it."

Biggest love outside of golf...

"Spending time with my kids. Things have changed so much; being able to spend time with them, living through them, getting to experience the wonderful things we all take for granted for the first time through them. You forget how glorious the simple things are. The beauty of that... I'm so blessed to be able to enjoy that.

"And I've got a new passion, which is very, very brand new - rock climbing. I've fallen in love with it, and every movie about it; I find it so inspirational, so freeing."

Biggest regret...

"Apart from being crap at the end? My regret would be not making the Ryder Cup team. The stuff that went on off the course naturally affected my game, and it happened when I was at the peak of my powers. I made it my goal to make that team for my mum, which was a silly thing to do; it heaped on pressure, really emotional pressure.

"It came down to the last nine holes of the last tournament at Gleneagles, but the bit that really went wrong after that was changing everything that I did. Because I couldn't touch that mentally, the scar that was there, maybe everything else would've gone wrong anyway. But the bit I did wrong was I went to see every single coach going. You get coaches who are world-class, saying completely opposite things - and then you're in real trouble.

"It was a bit like the Minotaur's maze, going into that, and realising you forgot to unravel the ball of string when you went in. When I turned round and thought 'hang on, just go back to what you know', I couldn't remember it; I couldn't get out."

Player whose career you're most looking forward to covering...

"Tommy Fleetwood. I know that sounds weird because he's already a top-10 player, but I think Tommy can be the world number one. He's more than capable, and he's got a great mind; I think he's definitely going to win majors. His journey will be great, because he's one of the nicest guys that I know. He's not one tiny bit different to when he first came on the Tour. He really is the nicest guy in the world.

"So often you find the guys at the top are really nice, but they've got an edge. You see it with Rory; he's a top guy, a consummate professional, the ultimate athlete - he's the best role model out there. But there's an edge. That's the bit you can't really teach.

"Tommy is such a nice guy that some might think he doesn't have that edge. I don't know if he's as cold and ruthless on the course just yet, but he's on the right track. He'll get there."

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