Three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty is hoping that the sociable but spirited atmosphere of the European Challenge Tour can bring him back to the form of his glory days as he begins his 2012 season at next week’s Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic.
The Englishman has taken a sabbatical during the winter break after struggling for form in 2011, making just one cut in 34 starts on The European Tour, and he now wants to rebuild his game on the Challenge Tour.
Where better to resurrect one’s love for the game than the idyllic Caribbean coast of Colombia and Barranquilla Country Club, where Dougherty will be joined by some of the European game’s most promising up-and-coming players, as well as a host of South American hopefuls?
“I’m really excited to get out there now,” said the 29 year old, whose biggest win came at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2007. “I’ve never been to Colombia before, and I haven’t seen South America since going out to Argentina as an amateur, so I’m very much looking forward to it.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go to be honest, and I’ve never played on the Challenge Tour before so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity for me.”
One particularly inspirational example for Dougherty would be that of Edoardo Molinari, who reverted back to the Challenge Tour in 2009 before a record-breaking season that year propelled him to European Tour and Ryder Cup success.
Dougherty knows it will be far from a walk in the park but believes it will be the perfect environment to rebuild his confidence.
“I know the standard is high out there though and I don’t expect to go out and win straight away by a few shots,” he said. “But what I do know is that the atmosphere is supposed to be very friendly.
“The European Tour has changed a lot since I started out and it has obviously become extremely professional and competitive but from what I’ve heard the Challenge Tour is a bit more sociable, and I think that’s the kind of place where I can get back to being myself on and off the golf course.
“I think I do better in a sociable environment where I can let my personality come through. In recent years I’ve been trying to do things by the book a bit too much and, while I stand by the decisions I’ve made with my game, it kind of went in the wrong direction for me.
“I’ve been so conscious in recent years of what I was doing, I forgot to just try and enjoy it and just play the game. “I just need to get back to basics now and remember the reasons why I loved the game in the first place, and I’m getting there now. I feel like I’m more me again.”
From the highs of winning prestigious European Tour tournaments and holding an overnight lead after the first round of the 2007 US Open Championship, to the morale-sapping lows of dropping outside the top 1000 in the Official World Golf Rankings, Dougherty has experienced more ups and downs than your average professional.
However, the Liverpudlian believes that the experience will stand him in good stead.
“It’s certainly been a bit of a smack to solar plexus,” he explained. “It’s obviously hit my pride and my ego really hard recently but I still have hope and I still have belief and I think that says a lot.
“I think with the fall that I’ve taken in the last two years, it’s an experience that can make your career and make you a lot stronger, and now I’m just looking forward to getting back out on the golf course.”
Dougherty will not be the only European Tour winner in attendance at the spectacular Barranquilla Country Club, with Jeppe Huldahl, Ross McGowan, Cesar Monasterio, Raymond Russell and Daniel Vancsik all in the field, while German Max Kieffer will be high on confidence in Colombia after his maiden win at the season-opening Gujarat Kensville Challenge in India last month.
The Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic will be the first co-sanctioned tournament between the Challenge and Pacific Colombia Tours, with a prize fund of US$250,000 on offer to the 144-man field.
It will be the first time the Challenge Tour has visited Barranquilla Country Club, a challenging golf course set on the outskirts of the city of Barranquilla and adjacent to the picturesque estuary where the River Magdalena meets the Caribbean Sea.