Michael Hoey well and truly blew off any lingering cobwebs from lockdown with a stunning nine-under par round of 63 to open his account at the Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa.
A regular visitor to Fancourt Golf Estate through the years, the five-time European Tour winner reminded everyone of his talent on the easier Outeniqua Course with a magnificent seven birdies and an eagle to rocket to second place on the leaderboard at nine-under par.
“I made some outrageous putts but I kept my head quite well,” said Hoey post-round. “I was quite nervous; probably the most nervous I’ve been for two years since the British Masters in 2019. It’s nice to feel the nerves, that’s why you play!”
The 42-year old, who missed the cut at the Limpopo Championship and last week’s Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open, looks determined to make his first weekend of 2021 after going bogey-free on Thursday to trail clubhouse leader Ryan Evans from England by a single stroke in George.
“Christiaan Bezuidenhout shot 60 last year so I knew a low score was on,” Hoey said. “The conditions are perfect so I know you have to go quite low. The place is in great shape but it’s a marathon this game so I’m just happy to score well today.”
“My putting really pleased me. I haven’t really putted. The greens back home have been about two on the Stimp and it’s been snowing too! It’s going to be June before the greens are putt-able back home because of the late season weather so you just wouldn’t expect to putt that good. The greens are so perfect here though. It’s really enjoyable to see the ball roll, it gives you a lot of confidence if you start it on line, you can just walk in after putts and I’m lucky I did that a few times today.”
On the face of it, Hoey’s 63 has come out of nowhere. It was just last year that the experienced swinger traded his golf clubs for a day job with DHL after Covid decimated the European Tour. It became so serious that Hoey considered walking away altogether, identifying a steady income and his increasing years as reason to perhaps step away from the Tour. However, hope springs eternal at this time of year and a combination of a South African swing and some long-term security with the PGA and European Tours strategic partnership was assurance enough for Hoey that he could give it another go. Still, not even his most optimistic self could’ve predicted a start like this in Fancourt.
“I haven’t had great expectations in South Africa because I haven’t really played for a year,” Hoey explained. “When they kept the categories last year I almost thought, ‘what’s the point?’ I basically retired – I’m not saying I officially did but I lost interest and got a job. I didn’t know the financial certainty of the Tour but it’s been helped out a lot because of the PGA Tour Alliance.
“I was on the board for a few years so I was always thinking, ‘is there going to be money there’, ‘what’s the point of playing?’ I’m also 42 now as well so there were a lot of factors. Jamie Hodges and the Sunshine Tour have done very well to get these events on. April’s an unusual time of year but I always thought I’m just going to go down to South Africa and enjoy it. I always love the food and the weather – but this is a bit of a bonus because I didn’t really expect that much, but that’s golf!”
That’s golf indeed and although expectations were tempered, Hoey’s a realist too and the competitor within him wasn’t traveling all the way to South Africa to make a loss.
“You don’t want to be negative either,” he said. “You still have to pay for the trip. It’s expensive, pro golf, no matter what you do. I’ve done quite well but I wish I could’ve been more consistent over the last twenty years but I’ve had a few wins.
“I take pressure off myself. These guys hit it so far. The young Scottish guy today Craig [Howie] was hitting it forty past me and I’m not that short! The standard is a lot higher the last five, ten years even, so just taking it one day at a time at the moment.”
Dubliner Richard O’Donovan, who earned his Sunshine Tour card last year, didn’t enjoy the best of days on the tougher Montagu track, posting an opening six-over 78 to sit near the foot of the board. Gavin Moynihan completed the Irish line-up with an opening one-under 71 as he looks to build on last week’s four rounds in Cape Town which was the first time he’s made a cut since last July.
- Full scoring HERE