‘It’s a special feeling’- Dougherty’s message to class of 2020

Nick Dougherty knows all about representing England and winning at the top level.

Now the three-times European Tour winner and lead presenter at Sky Sports has encouraged the England Golf class of 2020 to pull on their kit with pride and never take the feeling for granted.

Before embarking on a hugely successful professional career and then making the switch into broadcasting with consummate ease, Dougherty came through the ranks at England Golf.

A three-times Faldo Series winner in his teens, Dougherty also helped England win the World Junior Championships in 1998 and 1999.

In 1999, Dougherty also won the individual title at the World Junior Championships in Japan while that same year his England team were crowned European champions.

His career as a boys’ and then men’s international is catalogued in the record books and also in framed photographs dotted about the hallways of the England Golf offices at Woodhall Spa.

A look at the boys’ team portraits hanging on the walls brought a smile to Dougherty’s face as he returned to Lincolnshire last month to address the 2019 Performance Conference.

“You can see from these photos I was a little bit behind on the fitness side!” said Dougherty with a laugh.

But if fitness was a work in progress, then the golf game displayed by a teenage Dougherty following his debut in 1997 was already on track.

Dougherty looks back with satisfaction at his days wearing the white of England in Home Internationals, European and World championship events.

The 37-year-old says that those fortunate to presently be coming through the system at Woodhall Spa and the National Golf Centre should appreciate what an opportunity they have earned.

“It really was the good old days,” said Dougherty with an undeniable pride in his voice.

“My first cap with the boys’ squad was at Royal North Devon in 1997 (pictured above).

“When you represent your country, it’s special.

“Playing for your county is great, but I quickly realised playing for England meant there weren’t many people of my age better than me.

“It was the start of me believing I could be a golfer for a living.

“Isn’t it demoralising now to think it was a different century!

“We won the Europeans, the Worlds and the Home Internationals in that time.

“Ironically, the Home Internationals were the hardest to win as Scotland were particularly strong back then – to win all three was great.

“For us it was special to represent your nation.

“It’s one of the things you miss as a pro.

“Even playing Seve Trophies with GB&I isn’t the same as representing England even though it’s a big honour.

“Ryder Cup is another level again but it’s a strange vibe representing Europe.

“England was always slightly ahead of the other unions and that made sure there was plenty of needle.

“The matches against Scotland were massive but the games against Wales and Ireland were similar.

“It was fun being part of a great team and it was the start of the journey for me. Today’s players should embrace it too.”

England Golf moved to Woodhall Spa in 1995 and Dougherty was one of the first groups to train at the new facility.

“It was a more professional set-up to anything I had seen at that stage in my career,” he added.

“England broke the game down. Until then the plan was ‘hit it, find it and hit it again’.

“Prior to joining up with England we were also told to make sure you have a big meal before you go out on the course so you don’t run out of gas!

“Breaking it down to fitness and psychology was all part of my learning and what I went on to do as a professional.”

Dougherty is now immersed in the professional game thanks to his TV work with Sky.

However, he keeps tabs on the talent coming through thanks to conversations on tour with England Golf coach and Tommy Fleetwood’s short-game guru, Graham Walker (pictured with Nick above).

“You hear of the kids and look at the big events and see a Ben Schmidt or a Conor Gough coming through,” added Dougherty.

“At the same age as Ben, I won the salver at the Brabazon which I thought was special – it’s not as special as winning the main thing!

“These events are a real pre-cursor to what they are about to achieve.

“You can only beat the best around you. You can’t compare a Ben Schmidt to a Tommy Fleetwood, but you can compare him to his peers.

“Maybe he will be the next one to challenge Tommy.

“It’s more competitive now and that’s a testament to the coaches at England Golf and other unions.

“It’s about creating the superstars of tomorrow as well as celebrating the amateur game.

“The access to coaches, science and learning is here so it’s no surprise to see more players coming through.

“If it was the same as we were doing 20 years ago then we have a problem.

“Not everything we did 20 years ago was wrong, but the game has changed and the way information is used and transferred to the younger players is the right way.

“The England Golf coaches have the right balance and that is shown by the results.”