Higgins takes a year off to regroup

As Padraig Harrington chases the European Order of Merit, old rival David Higgins is set to quit the tour scene next year to rebuild his shattered confidence.

Higgins famously beat Harrington in the finals of both the South of Ireland and Irish Close championships in 1994 when they were fresh-faced amateurs.

But since then their careers have gone in opposite directions.

While Harrington is third in the European Tour money with a massive €2,245,041 bank balance, Higgins is 280th and has made just €3,973.

Now Higgins is so unhappy on the golf course that he is threatening to miss next week’s tour school and take a year off.

He said: “When you start playing badly it starts to get on top of you. And the way I’m playing now I just can’t compete on the European Tour.”

The Waterville talent lost his full playing rights on the European Tour last year and has failed to get back after a string of disastrous performances.

In the 16 events he has entered on the European and Challenge Tours this season the 29 year old has made just FOUR cuts.

He made the last two rounds in his opening two events in South Africa and Madeira but then went into freefall.

Disqualified in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in Sweden, he retired after a first round 82 in the Wales Open and then withdrew from the North West of Ireland Open at Ballyliffin.

Now business manager Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler is sure that the only way back for the Cork born player is to take a year off to re-build his shattered confidence.

“David has to get his head together,” he said. “He’ll be taking a year’s sabbatical next season.”

But Higgins is still reluctant to throw in the towel and let down his sponsors.

“It’s kind of up in the air and I haven’t really decided what’s going on. But I won’t be playing for a while. Even though I’m still practicing every day I won’t be playing any more this year.

“As for next year I’ll probably play in Ireland a little. To be honest I can’t pinpoint what’s wrong. It’s all in my head really.

“I need to start playing better and take it from there. Sure, I’ve tried psychological help but what I really need is to get the appetite back and the hunger to play well.”

Three times a winner on his way to the runners-up spot on the Challenge Tour in 2000, Higgins threaten briefly to consolidate his position in 2001 but finished 124th in the list and outside the top 115 who retain their full cards.

With only limited starts on the main tour this season he never got any momentum going and went from one bad performance to the next.

He confessed: “You keep believing that you are going to play well but as soon as you tee it up and it doesn’t go right you say, ‘here we go again.’”

But despite the fact that his confidence is at an all time low, he is trying to look on the bright side and has no intention of quitting for good.

“I take a lot of positives out of it,” he said. “Okay, I’ve had a terrible year but I’ve got the get back to playing well again. It’s not the end of the world.

“Did I ever think of quitting? Jesus, no. I couldn’t. My life is golf. It’s a setback and it’s up to me to get out of it.”

Higgins grew up watching his father Liam - who now plays the European Seniors Tour - bashing his famous long drives on the range at Waterville.

His uncle Ted is the pro at Faithlegg in Waterford, his mother Noreen runs the club shop in Waterville while his brother Brian, also a professional at Waterville, helps him with his game.

His friends have rallied behind him and tour stars such as David Howell and Raymond Russell have phoned with good wishes.
“I’ve got a great bunch of friends out there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting on with this plan. I’m not sure what will happen but I guarantee you -
I’ll be back.”
Brady wins car
Lady luck has started to smile on Dubliner Eamonn Brady at last.

A tee time cock up by the Royal Dublin man in the European Tour qualifying school last year cost Brady a spot on the Challenge Tour this year.
But it has proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Forced to pre-qualify for Barry Hearn’s Europro Tour he had a hole-in-one in his first event, went on to win two tournaments and then secured a Challenge Tour card by finishing fourth in the Europro money list with just under £30,000 sterling in winnings.

But things got even better for Brady last week when he won a car at the season ending event in Portugal.

Brady explained: “I was one of five guys on the tour that had a hole in one during the year so we had a shootout for a car and I won a Peugeot 206 station wagon worth over €16,000.

“Two days before the tournament all the players came to watch us on this 160 yard par three. We had three shots each and the guy who finished nearest the pin won - I had two of the three closest and one was only 7’ 9” away and that was good enough. It was terrific.

“I’ve got one more goal - to get a tour card. Mentally I know that I just have to play well but not terrifically well to get it. I’ve been a pro for two years and I have three wins under my belt.

“I’m full of confidence and I’m a hell of lot better player than I was two years ago so those wins will stand to me when I tee it up in tour school in Spain in two weeks’ time.”

Hoey goes south
Michael Hoey has been getting ready for the European Tour School returning to his favourite US state - Georgia.

The big hitting Belfast kid has escaped the Irish weather by playing practice rounds at the Golf Club of Georgia and Walker Cup venue Sea Island.

Hoey helped Great Britain and Ireland to the Walker Cup at Sea Island last year and then beat the US Amateur champion in head to head combat for the Georgia Cup before playing in the Masters at Augusta in April.

Club of the year
The race to become AIB Golf Club of the Year is hotting up.

Ballybunion, Carlow, Dunmurray and County Sligo are among the Clubs to take Provincial Awards in the inaugural awards scheme.

Junior Golf, the environment and communications are all taken into consideration as well as the clubhouse and course presentation.

The overall AIB Golf Club of the Year winner will receive a specially commissioned plaque and a development grant of €6,000.