Higgins rekindles love for the links

David Higgins hasn’t made the cut in a tour event since he looked around a packed chipping green in Denmark last year and thought: “What the hell am I doing here.”

He was so disillusioned with his game and life on the Challenge Tour that he decided to go home to Waterville to rediscover his love for the game.

Now, ten months, later he’s qualified for the Open and finds himself alongside Tiger Woods and his old sparring partner Padraig Harrington in the biggest tournament in the world.

He’s fallen in love with the game again and dreams that he might go down the stretch with Harrington on Sunday in what would be one of the great golfing stories off all time.

Daring to think big, Higgins looked across the golden fescues of the links at Turnberry and beamed: “Why else would I come over here? Hopefully on Sunday there will be a big crowd and you have to be ready for it and comfortable in that atmosphere.

“That's why we're here. That is why we keep practising and going to Q-Schools and all sorts of stuff. It is for days like this.”

Now 37, Higgins’s claim to fame is that he beat Harrington in the finals of the Irish Close and South of Ireland championships in 1994.

Since then their careers have gone in opposite directions with Harrington winning three majors a millions of dollars around the same time that Higgins contracted a liver infection that eventually cost him his place on tour.

He came back last year but lost his appetite for the game and decided to step back for a while to reassess his goals.

Recalling the moment when it all became too much, he explained: “I was on a practice range in Denmark and the green was no bigger than half a tennis court and there were about 50 young fellas around it, chipping balls.

“I’m not saying I’m better than these guys or anything but I don’t know what they were doing and I just said to myself, ‘I’m not enjoying this’ and decided to take a step back.

“I suppose it’s because I’d had a few years on the Tour and then to go back to that sort of thing, I dunno, my game wasn’t good and I wasn’t happy in myself.”

How things have changed in the space of a year.

Already at the top of the Irish Region Order of Merit, he earned his place in the Open by coming through 36-hole qualifying at Glasgow Gailes last Tuesday after an agonising five-and-a-half hour wait to see if he had clinched one of four places in the greatest tournament of all.

Now that he’s here, he’s determined to take full advantage of his chance and make a mockery of odds of 1,000-1.

He said: “I’m on cloud nine now. It is like a dream come true for me. I grew up playing courses like this and something you always want to do is play in the Open, so it's fantastic.

“Just going home last year and deciding where I was going and what I was doing, has helped me.

“Golf is my life, Jeeez, but you have to be happy doing it and I wasn’t. So I I looked at it, I analysed it and I decided that golf is not what I have to do, it’s what I want to do, so I’m going to keep on with it.

“Now I’m back playing this week in the Open and nobody expects me to do well. I haven’t played any tour events this year. I’ve nothing to lose and I know my game is good enough to do well in it, so I’m on a winner no matter what happens.”

Familiarity with links terrain will be vital for Higgins, whose father Liam is the club professional at magnificent Waterville.

Links golf is in the genes and he’ll be using those feelings to put himself in the mix in just his second Open appearance since he missed the cut at Carnoustie two years ago.

He said: “I guess you have chats with yourself and try and pretend you are going around Waterville. I am used to playing courses like this.

“If you drive it well, there is nothing to it. It is like playing holes in Ballybunion, or holes in Waterville. It is something we would all be used to, coming from Ireland.

“If the wind blows I feel I would have an advantage over a lot of guys."