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Hoey Joins Star Graduates

Finding his golfing personality, taking inspiration and belief key to his success

Posted Oct 04, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

hoey

Ten years ago on Sweden’s Baltic coast, a continent’s finest young golfing talent gathered for the European Men’s Amateur Team Championship on the Ljunghusens links.  Among them were Luke Donald, the current world number one, and Michael Hoey, winner of the Dunhill Links Championship last weekend.

Others among the class of ‘01 were Graeme McDowell, who was tied third at St Andrews, and Nick Dougherty who partnered Chris Evans to an improbable success in the pro-am section.  The contrasting fortunes of these and other participants at Ljunghusens, provides a marvellous insight into the psyche of the tournament golfer.  “It highlights the importance of personality,” said Noel Fox, who went from trading strokes with these elite practitioners to being limited to the EuroPro Tour as a fascinated observer of their development.

“It’s the perennial golfing conundrum,” he went on. “You play with guys you don’t believe have what it takes to push on, then they go out and make €1 million a year.  And the guys you view as certain of success, often go in the opposite direction.  I’ve always had immense regard for Michael Hoey, from the time we were abroad representing the GUI on two-man teams, so it wasn’t the game that was holding him back.  

“For Graeme (McDowell), the euphoria of success became fuel for the future. As a tournament performer in front of the cameras, he becomes G-Mac, the US Open champion. My belief is that when you work out what golf is for you, you should simply run with it to the exclusion of all other influences.  The danger on tour is that you look around and are attracted to what the top players are doing, rather than staying with the talent that got you there in the first place.  I think the guys who try to change who they are, are more likely to lose their way.”

It seems that for Hoey, who captured the Madeira Island Open earlier this year, influences were impossible to ignore.  He remembered the glow when fellow Northerner, Darren Clarke, won the Smurfit European Open on the weekend of Ljunghusens.  But curiously, he also remembered every stroke which Clarke struck over a disastrous last nine holes in the Heritage Classic of 2005, when a final round of 76 handed victory to Peter Lonard.

Hoey won the British Amateur at Prestwick in June 2001.  And a week after the Europeans, as an amateur invitee, he was tied 11th behind Retief Goosen in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, where he had a brief meeting with Clarke.  Meanwhile, as a student at Clemson University in South Carolina, one of his golfing colleagues was Lucas Glover, who went on to capture the 2009 US Open at Bethpage. “If the level of expectation was high after the Amateur, it really soared at Loch Lomond,” said Hoey. “It seemed so easy.  I chose to overlook the fact that in playing as an amateur, I was under no real pressure after I made the cut.”

Failure to get a European Tour card until the end of 2005 - as a graduate of the Challenge Tour - was a body-blow.  And after losing his card at the end of 2006, he didn’t regain it for another two years.  “When it wasn’t happening for me, I began to think that it wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he went on.  “In failing to establish my own identity, I found the whole thing very difficult to handle.”

But there was comfort from Irish colleagues. “Padraig Harrington has always been very generous to me,” he said. “Some years ago over dinner, he made a point of telling me that he worked really hard on his game because he didn’t think he had that much physical ability.  I found it incredible that a player who was number seven in the world at the time would make such an admission. You have to admire a guy like that.”
             
Victory in the 2009 Portuguese Open eventually gave Hoey security on tour.  “Hopefully I can keep improving and continue to learn from the Major successes that Graeme, Rory (McIlroy) and Darren have had; guys from my part of the world,” he added.

On being asked to pinpoint the greatest attribute of Tiger Woods at the peak of his peerless powers, Harrington replied with crushing simplicity: “He believes.”  Having extracted that elusive commodity from his Madeira success, Hoey has now joined the star graduates from the Class of ’01.

- Dermot Gilleece

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