Nick Dougherty’s 45th place at the European Masters isn’t the best finish of his career to date – but it is the most significant.
And how fantastic to see the likeable Liverpudlian back in the mix. The Nick Faldo protégé picked up €10,600 for his 4-under finish at Crans-sur-Sierre – his first pay cheque since finishing 25th at the Barclays Singapore Open in November last year.
The run of 21 missed cuts halted in dramatic fashion in Switzerland, as the 29-year-old led the first round after a superb 63, followed by a solid 1-over 72. A further round of 72 and a final day 73 were carded in Dougherty’s first weekend golf for ten months.
And the turnaround, he admitted afterwards, owed much to the support of wife and Sky Sports presenter Di Stewart.
“She’s a rock for me,” he admitted. “I can’t pretend that I’ve been happy. I can’t walk in the door and say, ‘Oh, all right, it’s just another missed cut.’ Di was always there to pick me up and remind me who I am.
“It’s quite emotional. You can’t go to somebody and say, ‘Don’t worry, next week will be fine.’ Di would have to sit with me at times when I’ve said, ‘That’s it, I’m done, I can’t do it any more. For some reason it has gone and I can’t find my way back.’”
A successful amateur tipped for greatness and on the verge of a Ryder Cup spot, Dougherty pinpoints his mother’s death from a heart attack in 2008 as a key point in his fall from grace.
“My game started to deteriorate after my mum passed away,” he continued. “I would say, ‘Perhaps something has disappeared since mum has gone. I just don’t want it as badly any more.’
“Di had to keep reminding me that this was rubbish. She allowed me to vent, to be angry, to kick the bed. She reminded me of what I’ve done before, what I’m capable of doing, and where I want to go.”
But his first round performance in the Alps proved he still has the talent to post good scores. So what was going wrong before?
“The big battle for me is the fear,” he claimed. “When I hit bad shots, I take it very personally. It makes me feel bad. And I have a fear of feeling like that, so it takes a lot for me to stand up there and trust it.
“Golf has been a massive part of my life since I was four years old, so when it’s as bad as it has been, I can’t live my life the way I would want to.
“I’m constantly thinking, ‘What am I going to do next? How am I going to put it right?’ Dinner doesn’t taste quite as good.
“When you are going out with your mates for a drink, what are you celebrating?”
Dougherty, up to 274th in the Race to Dubai, can certainly have afforded to raise a glass or two last night, but it’s vital he starts making more cuts if he is to retain his Tour card for next season – with only the top 115 players automatically keep their playing rights for 2012.