One of Northern Ireland’s top professional golfers Michael Hoey is bringing life on tour back home through his brand new column.
The 38 year-old Belfast man is battling on the Challenge Tour as he bids to win back his European Tour card. But he’s taking time out to give us his thoughts, starting today.
THE MICHAEL HOEY COLUMN
It’s been a long winter. Since October I’ve only played in five tournaments. It’s been unusual to be at home in bad weather for so long but it’s also good to not be living in airports, have some normality and family time.
I managed to get three invites, South Africa, India and Morocco and made nearly as much as the whole of last year in those events, which always helps.
We started the Challenge Tour season in Kenya. I was sharing with Chris Selfridge and he got food poisoning, was in pain and didn’t have much chance. The course was old fashioned / short but it was good. I played average and ended up three under, tied 45th. The scores were good - 17 under won the tournament.
Because the qualifying school category is getting weaker, more of these guys are playing Challenge Tour now as they aren’t getting in to many events on the European Tour. The second event in Turkey was the same - lots of guys with a card from Q School played and the standard was high - five under was the cut-mark.
I was poor and finished up one over after the first day but I shot a good second round of four under to miss the cut by just two. I had far too many putts.
When we finished at midday, Selfridge was four under and in 40th position. He was planning his weekend assault on the course using the green detail chart, which is probably going to be banned soon on all tours.
However, a strong field and a straightforward course meant he slipped to 62nd and missed the cut. There is so much depth on tour now that there really are three European Tours all bunched together. Compared to when I started playing on the Challenge Tour, it’s so much more professional now. Guys don’t mess about. There are a lot of caddies around, the gym is full and almost everyone hits it miles.
Most guys were stranded in Turkey until Monday or Tuesday. That’s a lot of hanging around if you don’t play the weekend but flights were £900 last minute to Dublin.
Belek is such a nice area, it’s all five star quality hotels and food all inclusive. The Med is so clean and the courses are fantastic. I played in the Pro-Am with three expats and they love the standard of the golf courses and the winter weather is better than Spain.
They said that tourism was down and we had 300 sun-loungers to choose from and the whole beach to ourselves. It’s a shame because this area is very safe. It’s a holiday place 1000km away from Ankara or Istanbul.
Next week in Portugal is an important one for me. It’s dual ranking which means money counts to both European tour and Challenge tour. I’ve been trying to get some golf in and thankfully the weather is very pleasant for once. Myself and Selfridge were down at Carton House last week. It’s such a nice place. They let us hit our own balls at the back of the range and there are two of the best chipping / bunker areas you’ve seen. I played the O’Meara Course for the first time - a lot less windswept than the Montgomerie. As Colin told me one time “great course, wrong country.”
Today Paul Dunne and Gary Hurley are coming up to Portstewart for a practice round so that will be good, I’ve not seen the new tees or set up yet.
I’ve got fantastic Nippon, Modus shafts in my irons now, but like all the modern equipment, they launch the ball high so I’m switching to the Pro V1 from the X ball. It comes out a touch lower and that should help, even next week because it gets windy on the Algarve.
Because I only missed a Q School card by two shots, I’ve got an E Tour category which means I’ll get into the smaller events but I’m just going to be strict and focus on the Challenge Tour. As Rhys Davies would say, “if you play a European Tour event, great you can make £20k this week but if you do well on the Challenge Tour the same week, you can make £500k next year.”
My game’s in good shape. I’ve been working a lot on the putting indoors at home. Seamus is keeping my swing simple. It’s just a matter of getting stuck in now and travelling well but I need some luck.
Selfridge has been great. He’s very structured for his 25 years. We play and practice with a purpose and he drags me into the gym when I don’t feel like it. Chris’ games is in great shape. He just needs some luck. He’s one of the best drivers for length and accuracy you will see, and according to his stats, one of the best mid range putters in the world.
Finally, I’m sorry to hear that Gareth Maybin has left professional golf. He’s struggled for a few years with his wrist. We spent some time together in Turkey and it was brilliant craic as always. We will miss him on tour. That’s me for now. Was that all a bit downbeat? I’m planning to have some positive stuff to write about next time!