Michael Hoey returned home last week to play in his ‘National’ tournament thanks to being one of five players to receive an invite to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, WRITES RICHARD MULLIGAN.
Staged at Portstewart Golf Club Michael, who plays on the Challenge Tour, it proved a successful weekend for the Galgorm Castle golfer.
He ended up being the last man standing from the North - one of five Irishmen to make the cut and get the weekend pass - with Major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke all going out after the first two rounds.
Hoey shot a four-under par on Thursday and Friday and extended that to six-under on Saturday, before saving his best for Sunday where he went five-under for a final score of 11-under and tied for 30th place.
Michael enjoyed the support of the local spectators and remarked that sometimes on the Challenge Tour when you are playing in France in the middle of nowhere it is easy to forget that people are rooting for you.
Michael returns to Challenge Tour action this week in Sardinia, but here are his thoughts on last week.
I spent the summers of old at our caravan in Castlerock just across the Bann from Portstewart so it was great to get back up the coast again.
I hadn’t played Portstewart competitively since the 98 inter-provincials but had played a few times and always thought it was quality.
We had played one of our bigger Challenge tour events in Aviemore the week before.
Thursday was five degrees with wind & rain. The week before they had 30 degrees!
It was a tough grind I had a chance to finish top five but a bad shot on 13 in round four and my ball ended up touching, but inside a boundary fence. I thought it was definitely in bounds but just checked with a referee anyway to discover that even though it was inside the fence the wooden posts in front of the fence defined the boundary & my ball was 1cm OB!
We had to get measuring tape out. Golf is a kick in the teeth a lot of the time but I still managed 13th place, 4000 Euro towards the money list.
In 15 years as a Pro I hadn’t lost my wallet or phone and I managed to lose both that Sunday in the Highlands!
I left the phone charging at the airport and the wallet slipped out at a milkshake bar. It took a lot of convincing to get the airport to release it to DHL, luckily Bev (my wife) knew the chief executive from her days working at London city airport.
My caddy, Ollie, and I were staying in Portballintrae - we did the same when the Irish was in Portrush, it’s lovely and quiet and Trevor at the Bayview kindly took my caddy up early one of the days.
Tuesday the weather was poor so I just walked the course with wedges & putter and spent time on the range with Seamus.
We just checked the basics and tried to sense me loading into my right hip/ glut better on the way back it’s so key to generate power from the floor up.
I was hitting beside Jon Rahm and was surprised at some of the lose shots he hit ‘cutty’ to the right, these guys are not perfect like sometimes they look on TV.
Having access to the Titleist truck was great to get new rain gear, a back up driver incase mine breaks and try a new Three wood. The course was in such good condition, perfect tight links fairways and greens and from the new tees really impressive, your driver needed to be solid.
Wednesday was 710am pro am time for me, three brilliant guys all from home and the sun came out.
The guys can pick me to hit one shot each and two of the boys chose me on the 4th par five second shot. You really try harder for other people and I managed to hit both their balls on the green from 240yards with two iron.
Then our other player Chris holes his third shot for eagle, I make birdie and the two boys both two-putted for net eagles which totalled minus 7 on the hole. It took us to the top of the board briefly only to be passed by Willet & Dunne.
Bev had come up with Erin & Calum (my daughter and son) who were desperate to get inside the ropes on the last hole to watch and the spectators laughed.
Chiro Shane has retired from the weekly grind of tour spending more family time he gets to four weeks a year and good to see him again my back was tight and he sorted it out like old times.
Back on the circus I hadn’t seen all the caddies & players for a while and you miss the characters dry wit & craic. It was good to see Gerry Byrne, Owen, McNeily, Guig, Davy Jones and others. The event was run so professionally from Robert Frames fleet of BMW courtesy cars to the F& B in the players lounge.
Thursday was 1250 with Karlsson & Colsaerts as nice a people you can get drawn with.
Getting your name called out on the first tee from Nire was special but you quickly have to calm down and hit a daunting tee shot with bushes right and rough left.
I managed lots of fairways all day the way I’ve been driving it most of the year with confidence and only one real mess up for 4-under. The atmosphere was class when you’ve played in front of a handful of people all year.
Early on Friday it was tricky with wet drizzle, I drove it well but myself & caddy got the club horribly wrong on 17 to spin back of the front for a soft bogey and below the cut. Such is the strength of field at these seven million dollar Rolex events and the lack of strong wind I knew the cut would be four-under. It wasn’t very pretty but I got my act together and ball in the hole with a quality three wood, 60 degree to eight feet on my last hole ninth. It felt satisfying as I would have been gutted to miss by one after missing at Royal County Down in 2015.
On Saturday it was great to get a hug from Erin and Calum on the first tee before their crèche which had them doing lots of art and down on the beach tiring them out!
Great weather but still nippy enough early on and the greens were so much quicker it took some adjusting after a three putt on the fifth - the greens were totally different.
Coming up the 18th I was two-under. Finding the fairway was good in the left to right wind and set up an easy second shot for near miss birdie - but what a beautiful setting with big grandstands/ pavilion and sun shining to showcase our North Coast.
All the weather reports said Sunday was doomsday but it wasn’t so bad when we left Portballintrae, the coast can be hard to predict.
It was cold and breezy and dry for us until the last few. I got off to a bad start my tempo was too quick and I had to talk hard to myself to slow down my swing and thinking - my caddy helped me. I started finding fairways and got a couple of putts to drop when I came to 14 and drained a 40-footer for eagle the crowd made some noise it was brilliant but again you’re so pumped up that to hit the next shot you got to slow yourself down again.
The News Letter’s very own Richard Mulligan got a special inside the ropes treatment beside us getting nice pictures from different angles.
Nathan Kimsey who won the qualifying school was slow to play with he got a second bad time and fine of 3,000 euro. Andrew Snoddy referee had timed us - I’m quicker than I used to be 25 seconds which helps, Nathan was 45 average. It’s working to speed the tour up, good for golf.
A final quality tee shot on 18 was what I wanted to leave an 8 iron in as it’s a tough hole and the par felt solid for 67. I knew I’d made something in the region of 50k euro which pays for my year so I’m delighted and I’ll take the confidence with me into Sardinia this week.
I wrote this waiting in Stansted airport to go - the weather is 35 degrees and with it being one of the big money Challenge Tour events, I am hoping the confidence from being at home rubs off.