Michael Hoey is keen to show he can cut it at the Northern Ireland Open
As Tournament Ambassador, Michael Hoey will be busy at this week's Tayto Northern Ireland Open but the five-time European Tour winner would like nothing better than to let his clubs do the talking at Galgorm Castle.
Now in its fourth year, the NI Open, in partnership with Ulster Bank, has become one of the stand-out events on the European Challenge Tour.
In 2015, the province's annual international tournament set the Tour's all-time attendance record when 39,423 spectators spilled through the gates to witness France's Clément Sordet be crowned champion. This year, organisers are confident they can attract in excess of 40,000.
The strong field boasts a mix of leading international players and more familiar names from closer to home. The youngest player on show will be Northern Ireland's latest teenage sensation Tom McKibbin after the 13-year-old received an invite from Modest! Golf Management.
The Holywood golfer played in last year's Pro-Am and Hoey is all too aware of his talents.
"I've played with Tom a few times and he's a great lad. He and his family are very grounded, there will be no expectations. You have to remember he is still only 13. That said, he is the real deal and can hit shots. I hope he enjoys the experience," said Hoey, who will be out to improve his own stats at Galgorm after three consecutive missed cuts.
The 37-year-old has struggled this season but there have been glimpses of the sort of form that saw him win the Russian Open (2013) and Dunhill Links Championship (2011). Hoey is also hoping a new caddie for the week can be a major influence.
"I've lined up Ryan McGuigan to caddie for me. He's a friend who works for Richie Ramsay and has worked for Masters champion Danny Willett for a couple of years too. It's just a one-off but he should be a great help," said Hoey.
Hoey will be joined by other Challenge Tour regulars hoping to make home advantage count.
Castledawson's Chris Selfridge is the leading Irish player in the Road to Oman money list. The 24-year-old ran close to claiming his first professional title at this year's SSE Scottish Hydro event in Aviemore, but a closing 72 meant he had to settle for a tie for fifth. He was at the business end earlier this month again when tied 13th in Spain.
Hoey added: "There is a great field at Galgorm because there are so many good young Irish players competing who have turned pro in recent years. You could pick any one of six or seven coming through, like the guys from last year's Walker Cup, the Gavin Moynihans, Cormac Sharvins or Gary Hurleys."
Other Challenge Tour regulars include Kevin Phelan, Ruaidhri McGee and Gareth Shaw, while more experienced campaigners and proven European Tour winners Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Simon Thornton will all feature at Galgorm.
Sordet claimed his maiden professional title at Galgorm last year and he is back once again. "This is the best professional event I have played in, it felt like a European Tour event," said Sordet, who notched up another win in Turkey earlier this year and also competed in recent Open Championship at Royal Troon.
"I am looking forward to getting back to Galgorm to defend my Northern Ireland Open title. It was my first professional win and hopefully I can go back and win again."
Tayto chief executive Paul Allen added: "We are delighted to become the title sponsor of this prestigious event, which showcases the very best of the sport and the country to the world."
There is still time to register for free tickets by logging on to niopen.golf or the NI Open app.
The Tayto Northern Ireland Open, in partnership with Ulster Bank, gets under way with the Pro-Am at Galgorm on Wednesday July 27 before the 72-hole tournament starts the following day.