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Rising stars face battle to make the cut: Michael Hoey

By Peter Hutcheon

The success of Rory McIlroy might be inspiring thousands of young people in Northern Ireland and across the globe to take up golf, but it's getting ever harder to make it in professional golf.

It's a view that Belfast golfer Michael Hoey subscribes to as he prepares to return to his roots with the European Challenge Tour at the Northern Ireland Challenge at Galgorm Castle next week.

Hoey is one of the Challenge Tour poster boys, having graduated from the second tier of the game to establish himself on the main tour, now with five tournament victories to his credit.

"I know there are a lot of good young players coming through, but it's getting them on Tour when they turn pro which is the hard thing," he said.

"It's getting harder to get onto the Challenge Tour than it was when I was on it, but everything is getting harder because there are so many good players around.

"When players are given the chance to play in a tournament, they have to take it and that means a top five or a top three finish to make sure they get asked to play in more events.

"I think it is harder now for players to establish themselves on the Challenge Tour now than it was in my day, but that's not to say it was easy for me, because it wasn't."

Hoey is the touring pro at Galgorm and tournament host next week and he has unfinished business having missed the cut in the same role last year.

He's happy to see invites extended to four Ulster amateurs, John-Ross Galbraith, Cormac Sharvin, Dermot McElroy and Colm Campbell, for next week.

"They'll be able to see that Challenge Tour events, caddying for yourself, is not that easy," Hoey, who is back in Northern Ireland for a break in the run-up to next week, said.

"If they want to get to the European Tour, unless you are like Rory or Graeme (McDowell), you have to play Challenge Tour.

"Not so long ago top amateur players didn't know anything about Challenge Tour. I certainly didn't. Having the two events in Athlone a few years ago and now this one at Galgorm for the last two years has helped raise its profile in Ireland.

"Before that it was a bit of a mystery. Did you have a caddy, what were the courses like, where were they playing, what was the money like? No-one knew."

It's been a turbulent season for Hoey, who had to withdraw from the Open Championship with a foot injury last month and last week had to endure an embarrassing incident in Denmark.

Convinced he was going to miss the cut, he took an early flight last Friday night, only to discover he had indeed made the weekend. He was about to return, but then discovered his clubs had gone missing en route to Schiphol Airport, which put paid to that idea.

"It was just one of those things," he said. "I was right on the cut mark and the wind died, and usually when that happens to scores get lower, but this time for some reason it went the other way.

"It would have been nice to have made some money, but I would have had to have played really, really well over the weekend to contend with some 86 guys making the cut."

As for the foot injury, it is something he has played with for years and unfortunately flared up just at the wrong moment.

"It's fine now and I had about two weeks when I didn't swing a club," he explained. "I'm just getting used to walking seven miles a day again because it is going to be a busy seven or eight weeks until the end of the season."

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