Five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey has revealed how he filled his time during lockdown, and it wasn’t as glamorous as you’d expect for the experienced touring professional.
The Northern Irishman has seen his playing schedule obliterated due to COVID-19 this year, so much so that he found himself back in regular employment for the first time in an age as he looked to keep his mind occupied and ride out the pandemic.
“Most guys on the Challenge Tour have had jobs in the real world,” said Hoey, who tees up this week for welcomed competition at the NI Open at Galgorm Castle.
“I don’t think they’ve been in the real world their whole lives. I entered the real world myself with a job. A recruitment girl called me up. ‘Do you want to start tonight?’
“I thought, ‘I won’t be tough enough for this’, but I managed to stick at it for three months, lifting off a belt all night, really heavy DIY stuff, so it was certainly character building.”
Far from alone in his endeavours, tour players seeking employment elsewhere while golf’s been on hold has been a reality of Covid-19.
“You can’t make any money [as a player with no tournaments], you’re losing sponsors because small businesses are struggling and it is [so] uncertain . . . I felt incredibly fit afterwards and I was looking forward to playing a lot of golf. but some of the tournaments got cancelled. I came out fit and hungry and didn’t have much to play.”
That changes this month when Hoey not only has the chance to tee up on his doorstep at a course he knows so well in Galgorm Castle, but he’ll have two bites at the cherry at the same venue when the European Tour returns later this month for the Irish Open, too.
“The course is in good condition – the greens are running really well but the rough is wet and thick so you have to hit some fairways,” Hoey said of this week’s test.
“I think the scoring will be low, maybe 20 under might win it, although we will be playing off different tee boxes this week from the Irish Open in a few weeks’ time to preserve some of the tee boxes and get it looking perfect for the Irish.”
Another element perhaps in the local boys favour this week is that no caddies are permitted at the venue.
“The fact there are no caddies this week will be an advantage to someone like me who is used to doing numbers themselves,” Hoey added.
“Some of the guys are not used to pacing off and don’t know the course that well. It’ll be a tough slog but there are a lot worse things we could be doing.”
Hoey heads a 16-strong Irish contingent set for Thursday’s opening round and gets his tournament bid underway alongside Scott Gregory and Bradley Neil at 12pm.