Wily Fox refuses to turn pro

There's more to great golf than life in the pro ranks just ask one of Ireland's top amateurs, Dubliner Noel 'Foxy' Fox.

If you fancy yourself as a future pro, take the advice of a Walker Cup candidate and think along and hard.

The current East of Ireland and Irish Amateur Open champion, Fox has great amateurs scrambling to make an impact on the big stage.

He knows all about the lure of big-money pro ranks - and just how high the standards are.

Fox warned: "I was bitten by the bug, but I'm cured now and I have to say that I have absolutely no aspirations to turn professional.

"I saw loads of great players struggling to make it on the mini tours in the US - guys that could have played on the PGA Tour - and that convinced me that the pro game wasn't for me."

Coming from a man who regularly drives the ball over 290 yards, plays off a plus handicap, and burn up courses like Portmarnock, County Louth or Royal County Down, this is food for thought.

"Length, a fantastic short game and fearlessness", says Fox, "that's what it takes.

"You have to be really long off the tee and have a magical short game just for starters. But if you don't have the physical attributes to begin with, then you're just wasting your time."

Guts are vital too, then?

"Absolutely. These guys don't get afraid when they get to three under. They just keep going and go to four, five or six or whatever. There's no fear."

Free from the gnawing doubt that he might have made a decent living as a pro, Fox is already deep in preparation for the Home International Championships at Carnoustie from September 13-15.

It's a far cry for the days when the Dubliner, who now manages a property business for his father, honed his game on the US mini tours in Florida.

It was there, on the not so glamorous Golden Bear Tour and the Tommy Armour Tour, that he discovered the dog eat dog lifestyle of the lower echelons of the great golf circus.

The son of a wealthy Dublin accountant, Fox could have found the finance to launch an all-out assault on the pro ranks a couple of seasons ago.

"I did think about it seriously alright," he admits. "But there are other goals to aim for in life, on and off the course."

The sight of top American amateurs and young pros struggling to make an impression on the mini tours over the Florida winter convinced the 26-year-old that life on the circuit wasn't for him.

Noel said: "There were some fantastic players that couldn't get onto the US PGA Tour or even the second division version, the Buy.Com Tour.

"They were playing in mini events on the Golden Bear Tour and the Tommy Armour Tour. And the competition was ferocious."

And he added modestly: "If it was a one day event and you shot a 68, someone would probably go out and shoot a 61 or a 62. That's when I realised that I really had no chance."

But what about guys like Keith Nolan, David Higgins or Richie Coughlan, top Irish amateurs now plying their trade on the US PGA Tour, European Tour and the Challenge Tour? Fox doesn't pull his punches.

"I could never beat those guys when they we were amateurs, so what chance would I have against them in the professional game," he asks honestly.

"The best thing a young player with ambitions to turn pro could do these days is to play with someone like Paul McGinley or Padraig Harrington and just compare. They'd probably find that they have a lot of work to be done on their games."

As Cobie Le Grange, the great South African tour player of the 1960s and 70s told his son Nico: "If you can't break 70 on any course on the world, don't even think about turning professional."

In fact, Nico Le Grange was just one of a star-studded international field to trail home behind Fox in the Irish Amateur Open championship last June.

It was Fox's third 'major' victory, following earlier wins in the 'East' in 1995 and the 'West' two years ago. And it prompted a call up to the St Andrew's Trophy team just a week later, followed almost immediately by a second win in the 'East', this time over Mark Murphy in a play-off.

But for Fox, ambition still burns bright, even if he has given up on a dream showdown with Tiger Woods and company.

Walker Cup selection would make Fox's career.

If he is to make the Great Britain and Ireland team to face the Americans at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Georgia next year, Fox must put in solid performances during what remains this season.

A member of the winner GB & I St Andrew's Trophy squad earlier this year, flaxen-haired Fox has in effect been recognised by the R & A as a potential member of the Walker Cup team.

And with Ireland colleague Graeme McDowell knocking on the door of Walker Cup selection, Fox is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

Can he follow in the Walker Cup footsteps of millionaire pros Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Ronan Rafferty and Philip Walton?

Will he join the pantheon of the great Irish amateurs, alongside Joe Carr, Garth McGimpsey or Jimmy Bruen?

The journey starts at Carnoustie.

And as Fox himself says: "This is what it's really all about."


Golf Shorts

David Higgins is becoming the Goliath of the Challenge Tour.

The four-shot victory in the Rolex Trophy pro-am in Switzerland last week was the Waterville man's third success of the season.

As he told Teeing Up just over a month ago: "Winning is a great feeling and I intend to do it again."
How right he was.

Since he first featured in these pages in July, the 27-year-old has claimed two more Challenge tour titles. 
And with only seven events remaining, he looks almost certain to take the Challenge Tour's Order of Merit.

Said a delighted Higgins: "Once I had my European Tour card back I knew I could continue to play my best golf."

So much for the handicap of playing with a driver borrowed from his brother Brian.

Higgins lost his clubs two weeks ago and missed the cut in the North West of Ireland Open at the Slieve Russell.

But it's all smiles now.

"I don't miss them at all," he joked this week. "And I don't think Brian will be seeing his driver again, either."


Justin time

What a week it was for Justin Kehoe.

After romping home in the final of the Belgian Youths in Brussels last weekend, he flew home to help UCD to their first national title in 60 years.

Kehoe teamed up with Mark O'Sullivan and Mark Campbell as the Dublin university took the Irish Club Youth's crown at Murvagh by the incredible margin of 16 shots!


Tiger II

Only hours before Tiger Woods repeated the feat at Firestone, Connemara teenager Derek McNamara fired a stunning round of 61 to set up a spectacular victory of his own.

While Tiger did the trick at the WGC/NEC Invitational, the 16 year-old boys international burnt it up on his way to carrying off the Irish Boys' Amateur Close Championship at Strandhill in Sligo.

'Supermac' shot rounds of 70 and 71 to trail Conor Doran by four shots at halfway.

But a barrage of birdies saw him shoot an incredible 8 under par 61 in round three.

Then he finished off the opposition with a 'modest' 66 in the last round to win with five to spare.

Tiger isn't the only golfer burning bright.