Coughlan begins step towards double


The outstanding example set by former Walker Cup player Padraig Harrington has inspired Richard Coughlan to hope for the best of both golf worlds when the PGA European Tour School begins on the Costa del Sol today.

Coughlan, the 23-year-old from Birr, Co Offaly, who played in the 1997 match for Great Britain and Ireland, is attempting to accomplish the extraordinary feat of winning a card for both the US and European Tours in 1988.

The ex-Irish Boys and Youths champion, who made his senior international debut for Ireland at 17, easily passed the second stage of the American School examination last week, when he opened with a course record 64 in Florence, South Carolina, and finished fourth. Along with players of the quality of Swedish Ryder Cup man Joakim Haeggman and Kiwi Michael Campbell, Coughlan has qualified for the final stage of the US School to be held at Grenelefe, Orlando, from December 1st-7th.

This week Coughlan is among the 180 contenders battling on the San Roque and Guadalmina courses over the next six days for the 40 cards on offer for the 1998 European circuit. There will be a cut after four rounds, with the leading 75 players and ties playing two further rounds at San Roque.

Only the top 40 (and ties) after 108 holes will become eligible for category 12 membership of the European Tour in 1998.

A psychology graduate at Clemson University, South Carolina, where his outstanding golf earned him an NCAA top eight ranking, Coughlan, who turned professional in August, would prefer his professional career to take off in the States. "I love it over there, and even if I fail the US School finals, I will be able to play the Nike Tour," he said.

"But this week I am concentrating on Europe. Then after we see what happens I will make a decision."

Like Harrington, Coughlan came under the coaching influence of Howard Bennett. He has been snapped up by Jonathan Barnett's London-based Stellar Management Group, but has yet to gain a major sponsor.

In contrast, Sean Quinlivan, another of Ireland's new professionals, has already acquired three benefactors for his first year on the circuit. The 22-year-old is being backed by his club, Ballybunion, as well as businessmen Gerry Purcell and Alfie Chute.

Quinlivan spent two years at the University of Central Florida in Orlando studying criminal justice, but, having won Irish Boys and Youths caps, turned professional in September after winning both the East of Ireland Championship at Baltray and the Mullingar Scratch Cup.

He has been helped in his preparation for the daunting, six-round marathon by old friend David Higgins from Waterville, who lost his card when he finished 157th on the European Tour this season and thus makes his second visit to the tour School.

Ireland has eight School entrants, for also trying to regain cards are Milltown's Francis Howley, and former European Under-25 champion Stephen Hamill. They are joined by Ulstermen Jim Carvill and Cameron Clark, and Dubliner John Murray, who is now the club professional at Shortlands, near Bromley in Kent.