LIFE on Tour really could begin at 40 for David Higgins.
This quiet man from Waterville celebrates his 40th birthday tomorrow but already has one extra-special card on his mantelpiece.
Higgins showed admirable resolve as he graduated from a nerve-jangling final day at Q-School with his European Tour playing credentials for next season. He's been down this path several times in a career which stretches back to 1994, yet Higgins now seems ready at last to fulfil his true potential in the upper echelons of European golf.
Higgins turned professional after beating Padraig Harrington in the final of the South of Ireland and Irish Amateur Close Championships.
Initially, he achieved some success, playing two seasons on the full Tour in 1996 and 1997; then winning back his place in the top-flight with a magnificent hat-trick of Challenge Tour victories in 2000.
Yet Higgins has never managed to establish a firm foothold on Tour, with misfortune dealing him a particularly bad blow in September 2007, when a promising run of three successive top-20 finishes was cut short by a serious liver virus.
Though unable to play again that year, Higgins, harshly in the opinion of this writer, was denied any medical exemption by European officials.
After competing on the Challenge Tour in 2008, Higgins built his past four seasons around the PGA Irish Region's annual pro-am circuit.
He won the Order of Merit in 2010 and again this year, when the Irish PGA Championship title figured among an impressive tally of nine victories.
However, the single most significant result achieved by Higgins came at the European Tour's showpiece BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he banked the biggest cheque of his career, €78,300, in a tie for 10th with Ian Poulter and Alvaro Quiros.
It's extremely rare for the 'club professionals' who qualify for Wentworth from the various PGA regions to launch such a sustained and impressive challenge in the company of elite Tour regulars.
Yet almost as striking as the Kerryman's performance that weekend was his attitude to it ever since. "Where I finished in Wentworth wasn't the big thing for me," he explained. "It was coming away from there thinking, 'gee, that wasn't even my best golf'.
"I thought of what could have been and said to myself, 'this is what you are capable of doing. If you were to play your best golf, who knows what could have happened?' That was the biggest thing for me walking away from that."
The only one of six Irish qualifiers to make it through the 72-hole cut, he went into the sixth round at the PGA Catalunya Resort with his future balanced on a knife-edge.
A level-par 72 on Thursday had dropped him three places into a share of 22nd, just inside the top 25 and ties who would win cards yesterday. Then Higgins opened his final round with a bogey. He'd drop two more shots and pick up three birdies in a see-saw 36 on the front nine.
Higgins was dangling dangerously, just beyond the pale, when he suddenly drew deep on his new resolve, posting on the 12th the first of three birdies in a fabulous four-hole stretch which made his card safe.
A bogey at the last was of no consequence. Higgins signed for a 70, which earned him a share of 16th with four others on seven-under, 12 behind John Parry (26), the fourth consecutive English winner at Q-School.
"I'm truly delighted," said Higgins, expressing his desire to "get into action" on the European Tour at the soonest opportunity, maybe even in the next few weeks when the 2013 season opens in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela Championship in Durban and the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek.
Admitting he'd not managed to achieve peak performance on previous Tour campaigns, Higgins expressed clear intent to set the record straight in 2013, pointing out he's "mentally and physically better prepared than ever before" to meet this challenge.
Q-School qualifiers need to hit the ground running, and make the utmost of the limited opportunities they get to play. It's a mighty task but Higgins exudes enough hunger, maturity, belief and resolve to give the impression that, at last, his time on Tour has come.