Battling David Higgins is ready to bounce back into the big league after six seasons in the doldrums and four visits to the dreaded Tour School.

His first professional win in the NCC Open on the Challenge Tour in Sweden last month has given the 27 year old a lifeline back into the big league.

But Higgins knows that he faces an uphill battle if he is to get back where he belongs - up there with his friend and rival Padraig Harrington.

Back in 1994 Cork-born Higgins was enjoying the greatest summer of his young life. At 21 he was the country's leading amateur, fresh from superb matchplay victories over Harrington in the finals of the South of Ireland and the Irish Amateur Close championships.

But since then their careers have gone in opposite directions. While Harrington resisted the temptation to turn pro until 1995 and then went on to win Ryder Cup glory and over £2 million in prize money, Higgins has struggled.

Son of the legendary big-hitting European Seniors Tour professional Liam Higgins, David turned pro at the end of that 1994 season but failed to earn a tour card for 1995.

But although he made the grade the following year and went on to win over £67,000 on the European Tour in 1996 to retain his card, 1997 marked the start of his struggles.

After finishing a lowly 157th on the money list he did the hard bit by going back to the qualifying school to hold on to his card.

But all his work came undone on New Year's Eve. A visit to an indoor riding school ended in disaster when Higgins was thrown, breaking his left wrist and right elbow.

"The horse just went a bit mad, and headed straight for a wall," Higgins recalled. "I was thrown off and broke a few bones. I missed six or seven events at the start of 1998 and then I think I tried to come back too quickly and ended up paying the price.

"I just couldn't wait to get back and then played in 18 European Tour and Challenge Tour events but only made seven cuts and ended up losing my playing rights on both tours. It all backfired on me."

After failing to qualify for the Tour School finals at the end of 1998, Higgins played his way into 16 Challenge Tour events last term and did enough to finish 38th and regain his playing rights for the fledgling tour this season.

"I learned a lot from veterans like Des Smyth and Eamonn Darcy and got a lot of guidance from them when I was on the main tour but the Challenge Tour has been good for me," Higgins said.

"Winning scores are about he same as the main tour but there isn't as much strength in depth. But if I can finish in the top 15 on the money list this season I'll win my card back without having to go back to the Tour School again. It's terrible and I don't want to go back again because it gets harder and harder every time."

Philip Walton, who failed to regain his card last autumn, described the School as being something like "a prison sentence."

"It's true," Higgins said. "The win in Sweden has given me confidence and now I'm 12th in the money list. The next six tournaments are very important. But I've always believed I can do this. I'm determined and having come this far I'm not going to give up now."

Has Harrington weighed in with any advice?

"Padraig is a friend of mine but he hasn't said anything to me specifically. I've always wanted to be a professional and obviously it's been hard but I've had great support from everyone and hopefully thins are turning around. I went to America in the winter and played ion the min tours there and that has definitely helped my game this season.

"My brother Brian who's a professional at Waterville, and my father have obviously given me great support and the club has sponsored me too.

"With travel expenses and entry fees it costs around £25,000 to play a season on the Challenge Tour, around £1,000 a week. So the prize money isn't always enough to cover everything.

"I've tried to do everything right ever since I turned professional. I've had the best coaches and I've worked hard. I just need a couple of breaks."

His father Liam, currently 20th on the Senior Tour money list, agrees.

"David has his confidence back and he definitely has the golf to make it on the tour," said Dad, who is still capable of those 350 yard drives.

"The question is has he got the head for it. I never did and I always took too many risks but he showed he has the cool with his win in Sweden.

"He was three ahead at the start but his rival shot 31 to his 36 on the front nine. He then had three birdies on the back nine and won by three in the end. When I saw what he did to win I knew he had the head for it. Nobody practices more. He just has to stay out there and live out of a suitcase for a while instead of coming home after just two or three tournaments. I'm sure he'll make it."