Hats off to Hoey, Ulster’s latest golfing sensation
He may not have a major to his name but Michael Hoey is becoming a serial winner on the European Tour.
His victory on Sunday at the Trohpee Hassan II in Morocco with a second successive 65 was his third on the European Tour in just over a year and his fourth in total.
That’s a better recent record than either Open champion Darren Clarke or former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Hoey held off the likes of Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington en route to his biggest prize when he closed the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a stunning display over the closing holes of St Andrews last autumn.
It’s a run of successes which will ensure that the 33-year-old Belfast man will be just as big an attraction as his fellow Ulstermen when the Irish Open comes to Royal Portrush this summer.
“For me the Irish Open has always been like the Open and now that it’s coming to Portrush it will be every bit as important this year,” he said.
“It’s an amazing course and with Rory, Graeme, Darren and myself there it will be a special week for Northern Ireland.
“I keep getting asked why Northern Ireland has produced so many good players in recent times and it’s difficult to say exactly but there are a number of factors.
“The Golfing Union of Ireland does a great job and we have all had levels of support and I think that the conditions you have to play in Northern Ireland makes you a better player.
“When you play tough courses in tough conditions you have to become even better to succeed, but obviously there is talent there too.”
Hoey finished three shots clear of Waterford’s Damien McGrane on 17 under par to win his first tournament of the year at the weekend in Morocco.
He shot a successive round of seven under to shoot through the field over the weekend on the Golf du Palais Royal course to end up a comfortable winner with a few shots to spare.
“I was really surprised to see Damien had dropped shots as I played the 17th but it was great to have a three-shot lead playing the last,” he said.
“I hit all the right shots over the closing holes which was really satisfying.
“I had actually been thinking that I might struggle to make the cut after shooting two over in the first round.
“But I started swinging the club really well and the confidence was there so it was good to back that up with good scores too.”
Hoey, from the Shandon Park club, turned professional ten years ago and has now climbed the world rankings to 73rd place as well as 14th in the Race to Dubai rankings.
As an amateur he helped Great Britain and Ireland to Walker Cup success back in 2001.
He also won the British Amateur Championship the same year and that earned him a place at the following year’s Masters where he finished a creditable 46th place.
But Michael struggled to establish himself as a professional, earning and then losing his European Tour card twice which he found so frustrating.
But he won four European Tour Challenge tournaments on route to the main tour via the qualifying school in 2008 and since then he has never looked back.
That weekend win has brought his wins up to four... and he’s determined that tally will rise further over the coming months and years.