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California dreaming

By Rob Hodgetts

Nick Dougherty
Dougherty led after the first round of last year's US Open

England's Nick Dougherty will attempt to leave the pain of his mother's death in the locker room as he tries to emulate last year's impressive US Open performance.

Twelve months ago, Dougherty won the qualifying event at Walton Heath and 10 days later sat on top of the US Open leaderboard after the first round at Oakmont.

He showed fighting spirit to hang on for seventh place overall, and also survived and thrived in the furnace of playing alongside Tiger Woods in the third round.

But if the tough set-up of a US Open course is not enough of a challenge, the 26-year-old Liverpudlian will tee off in California on Thursday trying desperately not to let the pain of his mother's death six weeks ago interfere with a flourishing career, which is on course to reach its zenith with a first Ryder Cup cap in September.

"My mind is full of my mum every time I'm not holding a golf club," Dougherty told BBC Sport.

"But I need to make sure I take the emotion out of the golf. If I play from my heart too much it will be detrimental to my performance.

"I'm not going to try to win for my mum or make the Ryder Cup team for my mum.

"But I need to get stuck in to achieve the results I'm after. Then, when I come off thinking about mum at least I'll be thinking about having achieved something she would have been proud of.

"She would be very upset if she thought she had caused me to miss out on achieving my goals."

Nick Dougherty
Dougherty has had two top 10s in three events since his mother passed away

To help him at Torrey Pines, near San Diego, Dougherty will draw on the experience of last year, his best major finish to date, and also his ensuing Masters debut in April in which he finished an encouraging 33rd.

"To lead the US Open was an awesome feeling," said Dougherty, who has since won the prestigious Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour. "It was another step up and a great experience and the goal now is to make the lead last longer and eventually win a major.

"Discipline, acceptance and patience are the main things that were drilled home to me.

"That's what seems to be the characteristics of players who do well at or win majors.

"It sounds easy to just stay patient but it's a real discipline in itself to stay disciplined. In normal events you can push at times but in majors you can't do that, ever."

Dougherty will also lean heavily on the teachings of his new sports psychologist Bob Rotella, both on and off the course.

I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist and my self-criticism is somewhat greater than it should be

Nick Dougherty

"The work I've done with Bob has been wonderful. He's basically freed me up a bit," said Dougherty.

"I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist and my self-criticism is somewhat greater than it should be. Bob has helped me to back off a bit and be more accepting. It's about giving yourself a break and understanding that golf is not a game of perfect, it's a game of mistakes, and learning to love that fact.

"That in itself is a real challenge and I'm still a work in progress but we're on the right track."

Dougherty would love nothing more than another pairing with Woods during the latter stages at Torrey Pines this week, even though a host of more celebrated players have crumbled in the presence of the 13-time major champion.

He carded 74 to Woods's surging 69 but was within one shot of the world number one before ending double-bogey, bogey.

"Some guys don't like playing with him but he's the best player, in my opinion, who ever lived and arguably the greatest sportsman who ever lived so playing with him in the third round of a major when you're both in contention is an amazing opportunity and something I'll always cherish," said Dougherty.

One of my pet hates in golf is when you say 'good shot' to someone and they ignore you

Nick Dougherty

"I was very nervous on the first tee but I am very proud with how I adapted to it. There wasn't a huge amount of chit-chat but one thing I would say about Tiger is he's very courteous. One of my pet hates in golf is when you say 'good shot' to someone and they ignore you. I really dislike that and he certainly couldn't be accused of it.

606: DEBATE

"He could have shot much better than he did but in the end he didn't make enough putts. But his patience was fantastic and the acceptance he showed was a real lesson.

"The commentators said it was arguably his best round of the year, so for me to be clinging on when he's playing like that was very exciting and very pleasing."

This week, Woods will make his first start since the Masters after undergoing knee surgery.

And Dougherty is among those hoping that Woods's injury will go some way to blunting his effectiveness at Torrey Pines, where he has won the last four PGA Tour events.

"I think it will be more difficult - thankfully for us - because he is maybe not quite as rehabilitated as he would want to be," he said.

"I don't think it's wise to rule him out but it's certainly not a foregone conclusion."




see also
Iain Carter column
09 Jun 08 |  Golf
US Open 2008 photos
09 Jun 08 |  Golf
US Open 2007 photos
09 Jun 08 |  Golf


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