Rarely does a year pass by without the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge offering a reminder about how quickly fortunes can change in golf. While the event has become well known for being a stepping stone to Brooks Koepka becoming US Open champion, it has also thrown up tales of players having fallen on hard times.
Marc Warren, for instance, found himself back playing in this tournament at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore after becoming a World Cup winner and Bradley Dredge, too, with the latest addition to that list being Michael Hoey. Remember him?
Well, you probably should because, in addition to winning an Amateur Championship at Prestwick, he was also victorious in the Dunhill Links as recently as 2011, holding off none other than Rory McIlroy to triumph by two shots at St Andrews, where he played with two other major winners, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell, in the final round.
Hoey finished 25th in the Race to Dubai that year before taking his European Tour title haul to five with subsequent victories in the Hassan Trophy and Russian Open, but now he has plummeted to 579th in the world and is back at the second-tier coalface after dropping to 186th on the money list last season to lose his card.
“You have to have desire,” declared Hoey, 38, after carding a three-under-par 68 on a miserable day in the Highlands to sit joint fifth, three shots behind the first-round leader, Welshman Richard James. “As sadistic as it may sound, I do still enjoy it and I’ve not given up yet. You have to love the game as it’s not as glamorous as some people think. Not even on the European Tour unless you are playing well and making money.
“Winning the Dunhill was great, especially as I covered the last three holes in three under to hold off Rory and some other strong players, but I wanted to follow that up and it was frustrating that I was unable to do that. Unfortunately, I’ve been very inconsistent over the years, but I feel that with old age I’m getting better and I don’t feel that’s me done at all. My dad Brian, after all, was 50 when he won the Irish Amateur Closed Championship.”
On a day when the Dave Thomas-designed course held up amazingly well as the rain never really stopped, James, a 25-year-old from Aberdovey who finished fourth on the PGA EuroPro Tour money list last season, carded an eagle and seven birdies to sit two shots clear of one of Hoey’s compatriots, Dermot | Mcelroy, Swede Mikael Lundberg and Spain’s Pedro Oriol.
Boosted by finishing second in France recently, Jack Doherty posted a one-under 71 to sit as top Scot in a share of 15th position. “I had four layers on out there,” reported Doherty of the cold as well as wet weather.