The Michael Hoey Column...

The sight of amazing nature in South Africa is a high point as Michael is forced to retire during second round

The sight of amazing nature in South Africa is a high point as Michael is forced to retire during second round

A rare bonus from an airline - I didn’t get charged for changing my flight between Joburg and Nelspruit!

This bit of good fortune meant I flew up ON Sunday and Gareth Maybin kindly took my clubs which was great as I knew they’d definitely arrive- another bonus.

The smaller planes SA use for internal flights often get full and clubs have been left behind before, sometimes taking as long as two to three days to make it to you.

It’s 400km to Malelaine, which is right on the edge of the Kruger national park. The park is something like the size of Ireland which is just mind boggling. We are very lucky to get to go every year. This is definitely the highlight of the season in terms of special places.

Gareth and I took a quick walk from the hotel and from our vantage point over looking the river we saw a hippo getting out of the water and walk about amongst five massive crocodiles waiting for their prey - we were just 40 yards away!

The course is awesome. Gary Player built it for billionaire Johan Rupert, who owns just about everything and runs the Dunhill Links also. My claim to fame is I took 20 quid off him in Florida in 2012, that’s like .0000000001 of a pound to him! He’s very demanding and it shows in the quality of the golf course.

Accommodation is tough though, there aren’t that many great hotels around. Its mostly safari lodges, which are more like B&Bs and they definitely put their prices up when the tour comes to town. I’ve been fortunate to stay in a house on the course before but sometimes you don’t want to talk golf after the round and just want to veg out on your own so I stayed in the hotel just at the entrance to the course this year.

Like a lot of weeks when the tour comes to town the weather was unusual. The driver told me it was 42 degrees the week before, but for us Monday was 22 degrees which was nicer. I played 18 holes against Gareth and the match was tied playing the last - a tough par 5 reachable with a good tee shot but an island that’s green and slopey. I went for it in two with a 4 iron, absolutely ripped it but it landed five yards too far and trickled over the back, so unlucky, Gareth made birdie from a lay up anyway to win, but it’s good to have something on it as practice rounds can be a bit boring even though you’re hitting lots of chips to different pin positions checking out the course.

My energy was low and I was still carrying tissues around with me. My nose was blocked up so I did no fitness and just tried to rest a lot.

On Tuesday we went to the course at 7am to try and miss the crowds and young Kevin Phelan, who got through qualifying school joined us. He’s a nice guy, quiet with a solid swing. I can see him doing pretty well as its very tough to get through the qualifying school first go. He was loving the course - I knew he would.

Maybin and myself had a rematch. We were all square playing the 18th again. After a good drive I went for it in two again. I hit a 3 iron but the wind stopped it this time and I two putted for birdie and it was enough for the cash as Gareth’s wedge was 30ft. Our caddies have a wager with each other also and so there’s always plenty of ribbing and banter along the way.

I went back to bed after the round, something I rarely do but it was midday and I was very tired. I slept easily, then came back and did short game for two hours at 4.30pm to beat the crowds as Tuesdays are always a busy time. I had some food and then headed to bed again - it’s a very glamorous lifestyle, isn’t it? Contrary to what most folk think tour life can be a lonely one.

Neither Gareth or myself were involved in the Pro-am so we played nine again and I came out victorious. I was hoping that I hadn’t used all my good putts before the tournament, no such thing they say!

I went out for dinner with Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane and Damien’s sister, Erin, who comes out a few times in the year.

I had steak and it’s unreal how good meat is in South Africa - the knife just glides through it and you never seem to get a tough one. It’s also ridiculously cheap by UK standards. Your meal comes to a tenner after a drink with current exchange rate, this combined with warm weather it makes an ideal place to visit although you don’t feel as secure at night time.

Peter was going to Hong Kong the week after, it’s an insane trip with 16 hours flying time, the schedule isn’t ideal! Then all the way back to Durban for the week before Christmas. I hadn’t planned to play either event.

Thursday arrived and I had a 12.30pm start. I wasn’t feeling my sharpest but was grinding well and was 1 under after 13 holes, then disaster!

My ball plugged on the bank on par 3 fifth, there was no relief as it was on the yellow hazard line. I didn’t know which club to play. Gerry suggested 3 wood to pop it up, I couldn’t visualise it well so used lob wedge and didn’t strike enough off the ball. It popped up the bank and rolled painfully back into the water. I had to walk back to drop zone 80 yards away thinking I can’t believe this is happening. I hit a good shot to 15 feet and misread the putt which equals a six!

I lost focus after that and dropped 2 shots by being overly aggressive, golf shows no mercy!

It went from a good day to missing the cut unless of a miracle in five holes!

I was so tired that I headed straight to bed as I was up early Friday morning. I had a lip out for an eagle on the second then was under the lip off a bunker for a double bogey on 3. I didn’t take time on the sixth and tapped around the hole. I’d had enough by then. I hate doing it but I just wanted to go in and leave the other boys to it as I felt like I was dragging them back.

Finchy was playing great he finished second in the event, putted lovely its the main thing as we all know to roll in a few 30 footers like he did, a gentleman he is as well.

I told a ref I had the cold and it wasn’t a problem retiring it speeds up play. I went to bed and slept and felt more positive that evening.

So I headed off to Mauritius, sounds great doesn’t it, but the days are long. I was up at 6am in the morning and only finished the Pro-am presentation at 4pm so not as much time with Bev and Erin as I would have liked. We will make the most of it before I head back to the tour next week in Durban to give it one last go before Christmas and I’m looking forward to it again - I must be mad!




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