Higgins the Waterville wonderboy wins again

Waterville wonderboy David Higgins scorched to victory in the Gunther Hamburg Classic at the weekend and admitted: "Seeing Padraig in the Open spurred me on."

Higgins came from three shots behind overnight to win the Challenge Tour even in a play-off after a course record 64 in the final round.

With over £2 million in prize money in five years compared to Higgins £147,000 in the same period, comparing the two young Irishmen is like putting David alongside Goliath.

But the 27 year-old Waterville golfer has done enough to guarantee his place in the top 15 on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit and full playing rights on the big money European Tour next season.

Harrington and Higgins were great rivals in their amateur days but Higgins admits that seeing the Dubliner on the leaderboard at the world's premier golfing event made him even more determined to pull out a big performance in Germany.

Higgins flew straight home to Kerry, via London and celebrated with friends and family in Waterville, well into the early hours on of Monday morning.

Yesterday he said: "Talking about my career and Padraig's career the other day, and seeing him on the TV doing so well in the Open just spurred me on a bit more to be honest.

"I know Padraig so well and I said to myself: 'Well, if he's out there doing it, why can't you do the same.'
"Obviously I'd love to play in the Open myself one day, but at the moment I'm just enjoying this win.”

As Ryder Cup star Harrington finished tied for 20th behind Tiger Woods at St Andrew's, picking up a cheque for £25,000 sterling, old pal Higgins took only the third title of his professional career, his second on the Challenge Tour, and a cheque for over £24,00 sterling.

It was the biggest winner's cheque in the history of the Challenge Tour, European golf's second division.
And it could work wonders for the career of a man who has fought for six long years to make the breakthrough.

Higgins turned pro in 1994, failed to win his card until 1996 and then lost it in 1998 after breaking his wrist and elbow in a riding accident.

Relegated to the Challenge Tour for the past two seasons, Higgins was dreading a fifth visit to the Tour School this autumn.

But victory in the NCC Open in Sweden last month catapulted him to 12th in the money list, close to a coveted top 15 spot and European Tour exemption for next season.

On Sunday he finished the job.

Four under after six holes, he then birdied the last three holes to finish in a play-off and earn a win that has shot him to the top of the Challenge Tour rankings with earnings of £35,514 this season.

Higgins said: "It's fantastic. I've got a great card now. Finishing in the top 15 means I can get into almost all the tournaments on the European Tour next season.

"It's a better card that finishing in the top 24 at the Qualifying School because the Challenge Tour Top 15 get preference over the Tour School graduates.

"That make a huge difference and takes all the pressure off at the start of the season in some of the smaller tournaments."

Without the pressure of having to accumulate as money as possible early in the season before the more popular bug money tournaments, Higgins will now have the luxury of playing in the cream of the European Tour events next term.

He added: "Basically, it means I can choose the tournaments I want to play in. I can pick and choose, or play the courses I play better on or the tournaments that I like the most.

"I won't have to wait around any more on Mondays and Tuesdays to see if I'm going to get into a tournament. That's something I definitely won't miss."

There will be no resting on his laurels either. "I'd love to go on now and top the Challenge Tour order of Merit. I want to keep playing and win again. It's a lovely feeling and I am getting to like it.

"I'd been playing very well recently and putting unbelievably well. But when you don't leave yourself anything more than 10 footers for birdie all day long, well it's a lot easier," he said.

Higgins' father Liam, the big-hitting Senior Tour professional, headed for the Senior British Open in Royal County Down yesterday, a proud and happy man.

Liam said: "It was a tremendous win. We didn't know how David was getting on in the final round until we got a call from the States from a family member who was following the tournament on the Internet. 

"David has been playing unbelievably well in practice and this is the break he has been waiting for. Hopefully things will take off for him from here because I think he's a great player. 

"I've always felt that he had the golf game to make it and he's proved that this season. Next year will be far easier for him now that he has his card and I think he can go on and prove himself."

Added Dad: "Now he just has to keep going forward. He has gone out on the tour this year and stayed out there for three four or five weeks in a row.

"If he hasn't made a breakthrough until now it isn't for want of trying because he's one of the greatest practicers I've ever seen. He's always out there on the practice ground and he's always got a club in his hand."

Young Higgins believes that going away for winter golf breaks since he was 19 - to South Africa, Florida and California - has paid off.

"Going away in the winter has definitely helped my game and I'll probably go away again this coming winter because I've been doing it for 9 years now.

"My brother Brian, my coach, was working at the John Jacobs Golf School in Palm Springs in California and I went out there when I was 19 or so to practice and play. I had to caddy at a local course to earn my keep but it was a great experience," he explains.

In recent years, the Waterville player has spent January and February honing his game on the competitive mini tours in Florida.

"I've been going out to Florida and playing good local players and Japanese professionals. I've based myself at West Palm Beach golf club over the past few years and the pro there, Mike McClelland, has given me great support."

But despite his struggle, Higgins has never considered quitting the Tour ranks and settling for a place behind the counter of the pro's shop.

"No, to be honest I never thought that. I admit it's been hard over the last two years, but I've always felt that if I didn't think I could do it then I wouldn't keep playing."

He still lives with his parents in Waterville but is now seriously considering a move to Dublin for next season's all out attack on the European Tour proper. "Waterville is my home, but it's bit remote for airports alright!"

The celebrations will continue at Waterville this week and if things gong well at Royal County Down, the family doesn't rule out a mass exodus to Newcastle to see the head of the household in action in the British Senior Open.

"I think when I do well it spurs dad on the next week. When I won the NCC in Sweden he finished well up and maybe it'll have the same effect on him this week.

"I'm going to consolidate my position on the Challenge Tour this season and play in the next four events. That means Russia, Finland and the Buzzgolf.com North West of Ireland Open and the Norwegian Open in Oslo.

"I had my first professional win in the Ulster PGA a few years ago and that gave me a big boost. Winning in Sweden had the same effect and it all came right again in Germany. The phone hasn't stopped ringing with people congratulating me and it's a great feeling."