EAST PROVIDENCE — Bellingham’s Brian Higgins really had to earn his berth in the Northeast Amateur Invitational field.
Higgins, who will tee off at Wannamoisett Country Club this morning for the third straight year in this prestigious event, remembers how he first got his foot in the door during the summer of 2008.
“I met Denny Glass (NE Amateur tournament director) at the U.S. Mid-Amateur in Milwaukee back in 2008,” Higgins was saying on Monday afternoon after finishing his day’s work as a manufacturer’s sales representative in the electronics industry. “I sat down with Denny at a barbecue and just asked him, out of curiosity, what does it take to get into the Northeast Amateur.”
In 2008, Higgins enjoyed the best golf season of his amateur career. He ended up winning Massachusetts Player of the Year honors after capturing three tournament titles, including the Mass. Mid-Amateur. He would qualify for the U.S. Amateur. He also finished ninth that summer in the New England Amateur.
“Denny told me to send him my resume,” Higgins recalled. “I received an exemption into the Northeast based on being Player of the Year in Massachusetts. That got me into the 2009 tournament. I reapplied and was accepted for 2010. And then when I won the New England Amateur last summer, that got me into this year’s Northeast tournament.”
Higgins, who plays out of Franklin Country Club, carded a 3-under par 67 on the final day of the 54-hole New England Amateur last summer at Yale University’s course in New Haven, Ct. . Mike Ballo (Darien, Ct.), Colin Brennan (Indian Ridge, Mass.) and Joshua Briere (Newport, Vt.) tied for second at 205, one shot behind Higgins.
The Bellingham resident, who often plays at his hometown New England Country Club course, will defend his title when East Providence’s Metacomet Country Club hosts the 2011 New England Amateur on July 18-20.
Higgins, 37, balances his working career, family life (he and his wife have three young daughters) and golf game, trying to do his best at each arduous task.
“We have three young girls at home and my day often begins by taking them to day care before I go off to work,” he said. “I don’t get to practice a lot of golf. I do take time off to play certain tournaments.”
Higgins rates winning the 2010 New England Amateur as the greatest achievement of his golf career. Getting to play in the Northeast Amateur three years in a row offers Higgins a peak into the life of elite amateur golfers, beginning with the young college players who are honing their games for professional careers.
“What do I learn at the Northeast?” he asks, repeating a question posed to him. “I learn that I need to gain 30 or 40 yards off the tee to keep up with the college kids.”
Higgins chuckles at his little joke, knowing that the college kids are nearly 20 years younger and way more supple. The soft-spoken amateur understands he needs to focus on his own game, rather than stand in awe of the 310-yard drives he will witness from time to time over the next four days.
“My expectations for the tournament are realistic,” he said. “I always have an expectation of winning when I enter a tournament. My goal, though, is to just play one hole at a time. I feel I can be competitive in this tournament.”
Higgins finished 29th last year at eight-over par and “around 49th” the year before while shooting seven-over par. This year, for the first time in tournament history, the field will be cut to the low 50 scorers and ties after 54 holes.
“I’m not that far away,” Higgins said, thinking of how he might shave two shots per round off his tournament score and perhaps come in around par this year. Making the 54-hole cut would also be a realistic achievement.
Higgins, who played a practice round at Wannamoisett on Monday, admits his job and his family life prevent him from becoming what is known as a “professional amateur golfer,” a fellow whose job or lifestyle allows unlimited time off to play tournaments throughout the year.
“I get some time off to play tournaments in the summer,” he admitted. “Having the chance to play at a course like Wannamoisett in the Northeast Amateur is a great opportunity. I remember coming to the Northeast in the early 1990s with some of my friends from Franklin, Mass. We watched Allen Doyle, who was a strong amateur player for a long time. To be playing in the tournament 20 years later is really amazing.”