Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Hoey out of the shadow of big three at long last

Michael's turn to fly the flag for golf capital of the world

Top gear: Keith Cronin keeping eye on the prize

Think Northern Ireland golfers and 'the big three' of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke spring to mind.

It was their major successes of course that turned our wee country into 'the golfing capital of the world'. Next week they will be in New York for the US PGA Championship intent on keeping a remarkable run going – not since 2009 has a player from Northern Ireland failed to bring one of the four major titles home! If Rory, G-Mac and Darren need any inspiration, they need look no further than Belfast man Michael Hoey who stepped out of their shadows and flew the flag brilliantly at the weekend to triumph in Moscow.

The Ballymoney-born 34-year-old produced superb golf to claim the Russian Open on the Jack Nicklaus designed course. It was his FIFTH European tour success.

The best known of those came two years ago at St Andrews in the Dunhill Links Championship when a storming finish took him to the top of the leaderboard ahead of McIlroy and McDowell, who had looked more likely winners.

The glory at Moscow's Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club may prove to be even more important though.

It was a timely return to form for Hoey, who first fell in love with golf when he acted as a caddy for his dad at the Shandon Park club in Belfast.

In 35 tournaments since Michael's previous Tour win at the King Hassan II Trophy in March 2012, he failed to make the top 10 and made the cut on just 17 occasions.

In fact in his last 10 Tour events before Moscow he missed the cut seven times.

Tour regulars though will tell you that's the thing about Hoey. He can be out of contention for ages, then just strike and when he turns it on, he is hotter than this summer in Northern Ireland.

The Liverpool fan hit a sparkling seven under par 65 to take a five shot lead into the final round in Moscow. He did not wilt finishing with a mature 70 to claim the title – collecting a cool £143,000 in the process.

Having become a proud dad last month, Michael will be spending some of his earnings on wife Beverly and beautiful baby daughter Erin.

Educated at Campbell College, Michael and brother Edward first played at Castelrock Golf Club on family holidays before becoming members at Shandon, where Michael, aged 11, started to caddy for his dad.

As a teenager Hoey blossomed, winning provincial youth and amateur titles and from August 1998 he attended college in South Carolina playing in a team that included 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover.

Despite enjoying the experience, he found that his technique was deteriorating so having talked it over with his father, Hoey came home to work on his game rather than finish his degree. As Michael writes on his official website "the decision paid off".

In 2001 he won the coveted British Amateur Championship guaranteeing him a place at that year's Open Championship and the US Masters in 2002.

Michael also played alongside McDowell in the victorious GB and Ireland Walker Cup team against USA in 2001.

After Augusta he turned pro. The next few years on the Challenge, Sunshine and Asian Tours were tough going without much reward but he refused to give up on his dream.

Slowly but surely his game started to click. He won Challenge Tour events and secured his European Tour card claiming his first victory amongst the big boys in Portugal in 2009. The following year, however, he developed the debilitating Post Viral Fatigue condition while on holiday. Out of action for months, he returned to play steady golf and best of all got hitched to Beverly that Christmas.

In 2011, Michael enjoyed triumphs in Portugal again and at St Andrews adding another title in Morocco last year before his most recent success in Moscow on Sunday which has taken him ahead of McIlroy in the Race to Dubai rankings and up to 175 in the world.

Adding consistency to his undoubted talent will mean much better is to come.

All at Shandon Park are rightly proud of their boy, who is scheduled to play at Galgorm Castle in Ballymena next month when the Northern Ireland Open Challenge takes place.

Shandon Golf professional Will Carey said: "Michael came through the junior ranks here and is a great ambassador for Shandon.

"He has been very good to the club and always comes here to practice. He's quite a quiet character. He'll just go out on to the golf course and not make a fuss, but if anyone goes over to speak to him he'll always make time for them.

"He's a real naturally gifted player. Growing up people were tipping him for success and it's fantastic that he has lived up to that."

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