x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Michael Hoey keeps hacking away on the pro golf tour

The Northern Irishman has struggled to mix it with the big guns but hopes a move to Dubai can help his game, writes Ali Khaled .

Michael Hoey, the Northern Irish golfer, is hoping to get UAE residency after the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
Michael Hoey, the Northern Irish golfer, is hoping to get UAE residency after the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

Northern Ireland may be home to the world's No 1 player but it wasn't always the easiest of places to make it as a golfer. Just ask Michael Hoey.

It all started off promisingly. Hoey burst on to the scene by winning the British Amateur Championship and being part of a triumphant Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in 2001.

In 2002, he played his first Dubai Desert Classic before turning professional later that year.

"It was a very difficult transition for me into the professional game," said the 33-year-old Irishman. "In 2003 and 2004 I didn't really have anywhere to play golf and it was hard to get myself established."

But he persevered, despite being restricted to the odd Challenge Tour or European Tour event.

"It wasn't until 2008 or 2009 that I established myself on the European Tour, it's taken a long time but now I've …" the sentence trails off. Hoey, you feel, is too modest to boast that he has now "made it". But made it he has, and one tour win stands out.

"The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last year," he said without hesitation. "A strong field at the home of golf."

In the UAE to take part in the DP World Tour Championship Dubai, the man who earlier this year won the Hassan Trophy in Morocco is set to make the emirate his home early next year.

"I'm hoping to move here for the winter months, the weather means you can play from November to April. Dubai is also the world hub for tournaments in Asia, South Africa," he said following a practice round at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

He is no stranger to the UAE's courses, having played at the Dubai Desert Classic for the past three years and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in 2010 and 2011. He has also taken part in the Emirates Airline Invitational at Yas Links.

"The tournaments are getting better, Abu Dhabi will once again have Tiger [Woods] in a really strong field next year, and Qatar is always a good one for us," Hoey said.

"It's only going to get better in the Middle East, at the moment there are three or four tournaments, but I'm sure there will be more in the future."

Hoey is not alone either. His countryman Rory McIlroy visits the UAE regularly and does his winter training in Dubai.

"More and more of the guys are making the move. It's a stopover for many events and the airlines are great with the connecting flights, so it makes a lot of sense to live here."

Hoey's father had played golf and encouraged the young Michael to take up the game at a very early age, but it was as a 17-year-old student at Clemson University in South Carolina that he decided to make it his full-time vocation.

After the initial success came that period of stagnation. Those days are firmly behind him now, and he is looking forward to sunnier times.

"At home it is hard to do much practice in the winter, the season is 12 months and we need to try and keep on top of your game."

He believes that the move will benefit every aspect of his preparation.

"You get less flying time and feel better, and you can actually do things like go to the gym," he said. "Some of the courses here have great facilities and I'm hoping to do some physical training with some of the coaches at Ernie Els Club at Sports City."

Socially, as well, Hoey is looking forward to enjoying the Dubai lifestyle. He has a cousin, Nicola, who he spends time with whenever he is in town.

"There is so much to do here, Dubai has a good social life, a good nightlife," he said before quickly adding, "not that I'll be partying all the time, but it would be nice to get away from golf when you need to."

For now, he is focused on Thursday's tee off.

"It's a long course and you have to hit the ball well, the greens are tough, very fast," he said. "There are so many good young players, you really need to play very well to finish up there."

Up there? "Top 10, I'd be really happy with that."

With every passing year, competition is rising.

"Golf has an expensive lifestyle and there is not as much money going around now in sponsorship for all the players. But a lot of people like golf here and are willing to invest in it."

Hoey is hoping to get UAE residency following the Dubai Desert Classic in February, after which he intends to stay for a few weeks to "practice, settle in and enjoy Dubai".

"The weather is awesome here in the winter, when you come from Northern Ireland the weather can drive you insane," he said.

But you cannot take Ireland out of the boy.

"Still it's nice to get home too, to experience a bit of rain which we don't get here."

So split his time 50/50 then between the two countries?

"No, mostly here."

akhaled@thenational.ae