• Facebook
  • Twitter

Official Programme of the Alfred Dunhill Links 2012

Defending Alfred Dunhill Links champion Michael Hoey continues Northern Ireland's current production of golfing talent. Barry Havenga caught up with the man himself.

While all the attention was focused on the Northern Irish winners of three majors last year, the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship crowned a different Northern Irish hero. Michael Hoey, the 32 year-old Belfast resident, stormed to victory to write another glorious chapter in his country's growing book of triumphs.

A remarkable year the first of the Northern Irish victories was Graeme McDowell's 2010 US Open victory at Pebble Beach, followed by Rory McIlroy at Congressional a year later and Darren Clarke lifting the Claret Jug at Royal St George's - three remarkable majors in 13 months. But then, enter Hoey. The young man who had previously flown under the radar wowed the Scottish fans by holding off both McIlroy and McDowell to win his third European Tour title, and second of that year.

After three consecutive rounds of 66 (St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie), Hoey slept on a three-shot lead over McDowell, with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen four behind, and seven players five back, including McIlroy, Luke Donald and, former Alfred Dunhill Links Championship  winners, Padraig Harrington (2002 & 2006) and Simon Dyson (2009).

Keeping calm carrying newly found confidence after winning earlier that year at the Madeira Islands Open, Hoey returned  to The Old Course for the final round and lost the lead to McIlroy after a bogey at the seventh. But he steadied himself with birdies at eight and nine, to rejoin his compatriot atop the leaderboard.

"I was actually quite calm on the front nine despite not getting off to the best start," said Hoey. "Even though I led overnight,  I expected all the pressure to be on Rory and Graeme as major championship winners."

Hoey found his rhythm as the final group turned for home, making crucial birdies at 15 and 16 to take the lead, followed by a regulation par four at the Road Hole. For good measure Hoey closed with a birdie at the 18th for a 68 to win by two on 22-under 266 - a new tournament record. McIlroy finished runner-up after a sparkling bogey-free 65, with McDowell third on 270. It marked the first Northern Ireland 1-2-3 finish in European Tour history.

Dream come true "The first time I attended  a pro tournament was when we came over to St Andrews for the Dunhill Cup in 1993," said an ecstatic
Hoey. "I remember thinking how different it was, being able to see the slopes of the greens, unlike on TV. I walked with Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart and John Daly and was in awe of how they hit the ball. I remember thinking  how I would love to play in a tournament  here and 18 years later here I am winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship  - it doesn't get much better!'"

After winning the Amateur Championship at Prestwick in 2001 and then playing on Great Britain & Ireland's winning Walker Cup team later that year, Hoey was tipped for stardom, but it would take four years before his maiden professional win on the European Challenge Tour. He lost his European Tour card after a disappointing 2006 rookie season, but won again on the Challenge Tour in 2007 and 2008 to regain his main Tour card, before his breakthrough victory at the 2009 Estoril Open de Portugal.

"I went to Qualifying School six times and there were plenty of occasions when I thought 'this is not for me', when I was running out of money and struggling with my golf swing," reveals Hoey, who was born in Ballymoney and grew up filling divots as his first job at Castlerock GC on the Northern Irish north coast. "Fortunately when I was playing on the Challenge Tour the Irish economy was strong and there were more (individual) sponsors around than there are now. But I never gave up my love for the game, and to win how I did at St Andrews was proof to myself more than anyone else that my dreams could come true."

Hoey's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship victory opened up playing opportunities that he had not yet experienced in his career. He qualified for the European Tour's season- ending Dubai World Championship and this year played in the Open Championship, Volvo Golf Champions and WGC- Bridgestone Invitational. "The win opened a lot of doors for me," explains Hoey. "I spent some time in Florida and even played at famed Seminole GC with Johann Rupert earlier this year."

With greater self-belief in his career, Hoey claimed his fourth European Tour victory in March this year at the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco, firing rounds of 74-67-65-65 to win by three from Ireland's Damien McGrane.

Sports stars, celebrities and businessmen from many different backgrounds make enthusiastic partners for the professionals in the Alfred Dunhill Links Team Championship, won in 2011 by the English pair of Nick Dougherty and media personality Chris Evans.