NEW Zealand Open champion Jake Higginbottom is expected to meet with Golf Australia officials in the coming days to map out his conversion to professional status.
The 19-year-old Charlestown junior was initially earmarked to turn pro late next year, but Sunday’s one-shot victory at Christchurch’s Clearwater Golf Club has likely accelerated plans.
The victory in New Zealand has given Higginbottom a two-year exemption for the OneAsia Tour and automatic entry into the second round of US PGA and European Tour qualification schools.
The riches of international professional golf will be tempting.Higginbottom would have pocketed $72,000 for the New Zealand Open win had he been professional.
Last night, Higginbottom arrived home and one of the first ports of call is likely to be Golf Australia high performance director Brad James.
Golf Australia has been a long-time financial supporter of Higginbottom, covering the cost of his numerous trips to the US, Europe and Asia to play in leading amateur tournaments.
‘‘The plan all along was to turn pro after the US and Europe tournaments he competed in last summer,’’ James said yesterday.
‘‘He didn’t perform well over there so plan B was not to actually turn pro until next October or November.
‘‘Obviously with this win it may or may not change those circumstances. That’s something we need to evaluate and sit down with Jake and his coach [Gary Barter] and see what is the best route for him.’’
Higginbottom told the Newcastle Herald yesterday he would make the decision with Barter and his parents, though he did not say how long that would take.
Since leaving school more than two years ago, Higginbottom has basically lived a professional golfer’s lifestyle without earning prizemoney.
‘‘Maybe he wasn’t ready emotionally for the challenges of going overseas by himself for the first time, but to come out and do this after a somewhat disappointing summer in the US and Europe shows the ability is there,’’ James said.