WATERVILLE'S David Higgins is back where he belongs, on the European Tour, after the Kerry man (who celebrated his 40th birthday on Saturday last) successfully negotiated the minefield that is the final stage of the Tour School in Spain on Thursday last.
I wrote last week that following the first four rounds of the event, that he was two good rounds away from his card and he certainly kept us on tenterhooks during Wednesday and Thursday as I watched for the hole by hole updates live on the Tour's website.
In joint 19th place with the two remaining rounds, Higgins fired a level par round of 72 which saw him drop to 22nd entering the final round, which is when all the drama began. A bogey on the first hole wasn't the start he would have wanted but he settled down and made back to back birdies on the third and fourth before dropping a shot on the fifth and then making another birdie on six. However, another dropped shot at the ninth meant a level par front nine and with the players around him moving up and down like yo-yos anything was likely to happen, but a sub par back nine was definitely needed to guarantee his card.
I spoke with him on Saturday afternoon following his return from Spain after he had played a round on his beloved Waterville links with his father Liam, brother Brian and uncle Tommy, and when asked how he felt and if he were aware of the situation with nine holes left to play he said: "I was well aware of what was going on as there are scoreboards with updates every two holes or so and you do know exactly where you stand and what the cut off is likely to be. It was tough, no doubt about it, and I felt that I was playing well but maybe not getting rewarded for it. But I am a bit older and a bit wiser now and I kept telling myself to remain calm and reminding myself that I am capable of playing under severe pressure and thankfully I got the job done in what was probably the most important round of my career."
Higgins did get the job done with three birdies in four holes, hitting a wedge to nine feet at the 12th for the first of them and he drained a 20-footer at the 13th before holing from six feet at the 15th for his third one. He could even afford the luxury of dropping a shot at the final hole as he was comfortably within the top 25 in a tie for 16th spot.
"It's incredible to be back on tour. I spent four years out and although I came close last year, to actually do it this time around means an awful lot to me. I have worked really hard to achieve this and I'm going to give it a lash out there for 2013 and we'll see what happens after that. I'm really delighted and over the moon about this," he said.
There's no rest for the Waterville man however, and securing his card meant an immediate return to action on tour but left him with something of a dilemma. He had secured a spot immediately in this week's season-opening Nelson Mandela Championship in South Africa but was 17th reserve for the following week in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which realistically meant he was very unlikely to play. Also taking place this week in Turkey is the PGA Shoot-out in which he was one of a 22-man field, but with a reward that had to be seriously considered.
David takes up the story. "A top ten finish in Turkey will guarantee me a place in the field at Wentworth for the PGA Tournament in May of next year and the only route into that tournament for me is by playing in Turkey, so I had a decision to make. Although I would love to be straight back on tour next week, I decided that in view of the fact that I wasn't likely to play in the second event in South Africa, I'm going to Turkey instead."
A win in Turkey would see him tee it up in the Wales, Scottish and Irish Opens also, but he has already qualified for the Irish Open at Carton House anyway, having won the Irish Order of Merit.
The tour card will see him play a minimum of 20 events and with any kind of form at all during the season he will get more invitations and he is quite confident that he will play probably 28 or 29 tournaments in 2013.
So the plan for the next while is the PGA Shoot-out in Turkey this week followed by a few weeks rest at home in Kerry and then three weeks of sunshine practice in the USA in January before the action begins on tour for him in February where he plays in the Joburg Open, the Africa Open and the Tshwane Open in a four-week spell.
It really is great to have a Kerry man on tour as it gives us all a lift and an even bigger interest in professional golf than before so congratulations to David on behalf of all the golfing fraternity in the county.
I must also add that I am delighted to see Sam Little winning his card also as I had the pleasure of playing with him in the Irish Open Pro-Am at Killarney a few years ago and it was a most enjoyable experience. Like David Higgins, Sam is an absolute gentleman and I always have a look for his score on tour ever since.