Michael Hoey out to be cut above at Northern Ireland Open
Michael Hoey comes into this week's Northern Ireland Open showing some of his best form of the season after a run to the quarter-finals of the Paul Lawrie Match Play event in Scotland.
The 36-year-old showed tournament-winning form over the weekend with his 7&6 thumping of Frenchman Gregory Havret to set up a last-eight clash with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the inaugural European Tour event at Murcar Links near Aberdeen.
For much of the quarter-final, Hoey looked in control but eventually lost 2&1 to Aphibarnrat, who went on to win the tournament by defeating Sweden's Robert Karlsson in Sunday's final.
"I didn't expect that… it was good golf," said Hoey of his fine performance against Havret. "I'm remembering some shots from a long time ago when I won the British Amateur (2001). And I'm holing a few putts too."
Hoey will be hoping the putter stays hot for the NI Open, which starts on Thursday in association with SPHERE Global and Ulster Bank, at Galgorm Castle where he is the venue's Touring Professional and the Tournament Ambassador for one of the biggest events on the European Challenge Tour.
"People often say to me, 'how's your tournament going?'," said Hoey, now in his third year as NI Open Tournament Ambassador. "Well, it's not 'my tournament' but that's a nice thing to hear. I am playing a part in it and I'd like to think that I have helped get support for the tournament."
Perhaps the only downside of Hoey's association with the event so far has been on the golf course after his failure to make the cut in two attempts.
It's not for the want of trying and it's not easy being the face of a tournament - just ask Hoey's fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy or Germany's Martin Kaymer, who both missed out at their respective national opens this year.
"I am not going in with any expectations, none whatsoever. I will focus on just making the cut and if I do that, we'll look to push on over the weekend," said five-time European Tour winner Hoey.
He will be joined at Galgorm by many household names, including fellow Irish European Tour winners Damien McGrane (Volvo China Open 2008), Peter Lawrie (Open de Espana 2008) and Simon Thornton (St Omer Open 2013).
Rosapenna's Ruaidhri McGee is the highest ranked Irish player in the Road to Oman standings (18th) and will look to get back into the top 15 at Galgorm - the top 15 players earn a full European Tour Card at the end of the season.
After 13 years on the road, Hoey has experienced plenty of ups and downs and has been able to pass on advice to the likes of Castledawson's Chris Selfridge, who joined the paid ranks earlier this year and will also be competing at Galgorm.
"Chris has long-term ambitions to progress onto the PGA Tour," said Hoey, whose best finish to date this season is tied seventh in the BMW International. "Working your way up from the Challenge Tour through to the European Tour is still the best approach.
"Having events like this means that players like Chris can get more starts on the Challenge Tour which is vital for development."
Hoey would also welcome more Irish company out on tour. He said: "The likes of Graeme (McDowell), Darren (Clarke) and Rory (McIlroy) play a world schedule while I focus on Europe. From a selfish point of view, having someone else to travel and practice with would be helpful for me."
Hoey doesn't have far to travel this week and will hope to put on a show for the home crowd.
Tickets for the Northern Ireland Open are free. Register online at www.niopen.co.uk/tickets)