Bookworm Johnny Foster has come storming out of the library this season, ready to re-launch his amateur career.

After a year in the doldrums, during which he lost his place on the Ireland senior golf panel, sat tedious exams and wrote a complex 24,000-word masters thesis, Johnny's back. And this time he means business after taking a new mental approach to the game.

Foster's close study of sports psychology has given him the weapons he needs to sweep ahead in his amateur career.

And he confirmed his return to form with a spectacular victory in the Mullingar Scratch Cup earlier this month.

That earned him a recall to the Ireland squad for the Home International championship at Carnoustie, from September 13-15.

And tough cookie Foster is raring go for glory after a year's graft, on and off the course.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said the 24 year-old politics graduate this week. "I didn't know what to expect when I played at Portcawl two years ago, but I'll be feeling right at home with the whole scene next month.

"I put a lot of work in over the winter and it has really paid off after a poor end to last season."

A great student of the game, Foster recharged his batteries over the winter months, both physically and mentally.

As well as grooving his swing with local coach Michael McGee, Foster has paid more attention to the mental side of the game.

Books by top golf guru Bob Rotella, including 'Golf is not a game of Perfect', have become bedside reading for the Antrim kid who refuses to get carried away by his own natural ability.

"I just set myself goals and then move on. In 1998 I won the South of Ireland and made the International team and that was it. I had achieved all my ambitions," he admitted.

"Maybe that's what went wrong last year. I didn't have a proper mind set and just drifted along. Now I just want to excel, win as many titles as possible and consolidate myself on the Ireland team. After that we'll see what happens"

Foster's turn around started when he took a whole new approach to the game. After striking up a rapport with coach McGee, who helped brighten his outlook, Foster set himself some realistic goals.

Foster said: "I really tried to come out and do things this year. I consolidated my goals with Michael over the winter, my game generally, and also my attitude which I think is very important in golf.

"Mental toughness is more important than how good your swing looks. When it comes down to it, with those downhill putts and the tough little chips, it's what you have in your stomach the counts.

"It's easy to go out and just hit ball after ball on the range. So that's why it was so gratifying to win under pressure in Mullingar. You've got people watching you, selectors watching you, and you just want to come through."

And Foster admitted that some tips from close friend Michael Hoey, the North of Ireland champion, helped him iron out the kinks in his mental game.

"I asked Michael to give me a hand because I was struggling a bit. He opened my eyes a bit to how a really top class player thinks on the golf course. He just said 'Go out and enjoy it'. Free it up and make a smooth swing. Simple things that you sometimes forget about.

"I realised that you can't make the Irish international team in January, that you've got to do just one thing at a time and most of all enjoy it. After all I'm playing golf to make friends not dollars. I'm not a pro and you just want to go away with new acquaintances and experiences. If you lose, it's not life or death.

With a love of the history of the game to rival even Ben Crenshaw, Foster is liberal with quotes from all the greats, from Gary Player to Ireland's Tom Craddock.

An avid reader, he even used a book to inspire himself, the night before the final 36 holes at Mullingar.

"I love the history of the game and reading about and I was looking for a little bit of inspiration. In a book on the Mullingar Scratch Cup Tom Craddock said that only the great players win at Mullingar. I'm not a great player yet, not even close to it. But to win there after Walton, McGinley, Clarke, Townsend, it's another bit of history and I feel privileged.

"When I won the South at Lahinch in '98it was the same. You see your name on the trophy and you can't believe it. Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Johnny Fost... your can't believe it. Hopefully over the rest of my career my name won't look out of place on those trophies", he said.

But Foster is realistic about his golf.

Quipped the Ulsterman: "You have a bit of crack and if sure the golf doesn't go good, well sure the town's bouncing afterwards anyway."


Muppet called up

Mark Murphy was in a spin this week.

The madcap disc jockey they call DJ Muppet finally got his Ireland international call-up.

Mark said: "I'm thrilled to be in the team. It's a great honour and I'm determined to do my best to help the lads win the trophy."

He's one of five new caps in the Ireland side that will fight for the Home International crown at Carnoustie from September 13-15.

The other new faces in the 11-man side are Graeme McDowell (Rathmore), Michael McDermott (Stackstown) and Justin Kehoe (UCD and Birr).

The side is completed by John Foster (Ballyclare), Noel Fox (Portmarnock), Michael Hoey (Shandon Park), Andrew McCormick (Scrabo), Ciaran McMonagle (Dunfanaghy), Tim Rice (Limerick) and Portmarnock veteran Adrian Morrow.


Higgins's clubs

There was a bag of trouble for David Higgins in the North West of Ireland Open at Slieve Russell last weekend.

Twice a Challenge Tour winner this term, Higgins arrived at the Cavan venue on a high, but minus his clubs!

Higgins said: "The went missing in transit from the Finnish Masters. It wasn't the same without them and I didn't have the same feel. It was an opportunity missed but that's life."

The 27 year-old used a spare set but never felt comfortable and finished up missing the cut.

But there was a silver lining. He still tops the Challenge Tour money-list, with just over £1,500 more than Sweden's Mikael Lundberg.


Big week

Bright hope Martin McTernan has big plans next week.

The 16 year-old County Sligo prospect is itching to bring the Boys' Interprovincial title back to Connacht.

Martin said: "I rally think we have a great side this year with strength in depth. I think we will go one better than last year where we finished as runners-up."

The Boys' Interpros (Aug 30-Sept 1) are the highlight of a great golf at magnificent Murvagh on the wild Donegal coast.

Events kick off with the Club Youths' National Final (Aug. 28) followed by the Irish Schools National Final (Aug. 29).


Darren Clarke

Don't expect to find out much about Darren Clarke at

The site leads to another golf offering, appropriately called

And it's a score the Dungannon man looks capable of after firing rounds of 60 at the K Club last year and in the Monte Carlo Open in 1992.

Maybe he needs to go one lower.

Despite those great rounds Clarke still failed to win either tournament!