Michael Hoey comes into this week’s Northern Ireland Open, in association with SPHERE Global and Ulster Bank, showing some of his best form of the season after a run to the quarter-finals in last week’s Paul Lawrie Match play event in Scotland.
The 36-year-old showed tournament winning form with his 7 and 6 thumping of Frenchman Gregory Havret to set up a quarter-final clash with Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the inaugural European Tour event at Murcar Links near Aberdeen.
For much of the quarter-final Hoey looked in control but eventually lost 2 and 1 to Aphibarnrat, who went on to win the event after defeating Sweden’s Robert Karlsson in yesterday’s final.
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that…it was good golf,” said Hoey of his fine performance against Havret. “I’m remembering some shots from a long time ago when I won the British Amateur (2001). And I’m holing a few putts too.”
Hoey will be hoping the putter stays hot for this week’s NI Open at Galgorm Castle where he is the venue’s Touring Professional and this week’s Tournament Ambassador for one of the biggest events on the European Challenge Tour schedule.
“People often say to me, ‘how’s your tournament going’,” said Hoey, now in his third year as NI Open Tournament Ambassador. “Well, it’s not ‘my tournament’ but that’s a nice thing to hear. I am playing a part in it and I’d like to think that I have helped get support for the tournament.
Perhaps the only downside of Hoey’s association with the event so far has been on the golf course after his failure to make the halfway cut in two attempts. It’s not for the want of trying and it’s not easy being the face of a tournament, just ask Rory McIlroy or Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who both missed out at their respective national opens this year.
“I am not going in with any expectations, none whatsoever. I will focus on just making the cut and if I do that, we’ll look to push on over the weekend,” said the five-time European Tour winner.
Hoey will be joined at Galgorm by many household names, including fellow Irish European Tour winners; Damien McGrane (Volvo China Open 2008), Peter Lawrie (Open de Espana 2008) and Simon Thornton (St Omer Open 2013). Rosapenna’s Ruaidhri McGee is the highest ranked Irish player in the Road to Oman standings (18th) and will look to get back into the top 15 at Galgorm. (The top 15 players earn full European Tour Cards at the end of the season).
After 13 years on the road, Hoey has experienced plenty of ups and downs associated with playing golf for a living and has been able to pass on advice to the likes of Castledawson’s Chris Selfridge, who joined the paid ranks earlier this year and will also compete at Galgorm.
“Chris has long-term ambitions to progress onto the PGA Tour,” said Hoey, whose best finish to date this season is tied seventh in the BMW International. “Working your way up from Challenge Tour through to the European Tour is still the best approach.
“Having events like the NI Open means that players like Chris can get more starts on the Challenge Tour which is vital for their development.”
Hoey would also welcome more Irish company out on tour. “The likes of Graeme (McDowell), Darren (Clarke) and Rory (McIlroy) play a world schedule while I focus on Europe. From a selfish point of view, having someone else to travel with, to practice with would be helpful for me.”
Hoey doesn’t have far to travel this week and will hope to put on a show in front of home crowds.
(Entry to this week’s Northern Ireland Open is free, simply register online at www.niopen.co.uk/tickets)