Michael Hoey may not be on the European Tour circuit this year having agonisingly lost his card last season, but he remains as popular as ever among local fans.
That was evident during Wednesday’s Pro-AM event at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, hosted by the Rory Foundation, at Portstewart Golf Club as thousands of spectators joined the golfers in making the best of the good weather on the North Coast.
Team Hoey, with amateurs Rory Smith, Colm Connelly and John Harkin, had set the early pace and at one stage had the clubhouse lead on the morning session before finally dropping back to finish in fourth place, Padraig Harrington’s four ball taking the honours.
“You could not ask for a better way to start the week,” enthused Hoey. “Good guys to play with, good golf, good weather and good crowds - just what an Irish Open Pro-AM should be.”
Hoey has been playing his golf on the Challenge Tour this season having missed out on retaining a full European Tour card by just two shots at the qualifying school in Girona, Spain.
The five-time European Tour winner finished in a share of 37th with only the top 25 and ties earning cards.
But he has put the disappointment behind him and it was a happy and relaxed Hoey who spoke after his round on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I am really enjoying playing the Challenge Tour,” he told the News Letter.
“I have had chances to win, but have not quite done it yet.
“But I am becoming more confident. I am contending like maybe four weeks this year when I had chances to win so I am really enjoying that and I am confident I can get back to the bigger stage next year.”
Hoey is one of five golfers who received an invite to play in the Irish Open and he is really appreciative to have the opportunity and plans to enjoy the weekend and, having missed the cut on the last two occasions, stay for the full weekend.
He prepared well having finished tied-13th on last week’s SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels & Resorts even though he managed to leave his wallet in Aviemore and mobile phone at Inverness!
Galgorm Castle golfer Hoey tees off on Thursday at 12:50pm from the first hole and is playing along with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.
He is still a member of Castlerock Golf Club which can be seen across the River Bann from Portstewart Golf Club and that gives a bit of local knowledge to aid him on his quest this weekend.
I have not played as much at Portstewart as at Castlerock, but it (Portstewart)is a bit different off the new tees. It is a lot longer than what you would normally play and that makes it a different challenge.
“There is a good bit of rough and I am impressed with the way they have grown bits of it and it means you have to drive the ball well. But there will be low scores still if the wind is not blowing,” he said.
While local fans will be expecting a ‘home’ win, Hoey laughs off that being him.
“Look, it is one shot at a time. If the weather is like it is today then you are five under cut.
“There are so many good players here. There are maybe 60 world class players playing this weekend so forgetting about anything just getting yourself into the top 30, top 20 and then move into the weekend.”
Hoey says the Scottish is strong next week, but with the lies of Justin Rose and Jon Rham to name but a few, the Irish Open field is just as strong - it is like a mini Open these events.
“They are proper major events and you can sense it so you really want to just play decent and enjoy it,” he added.