Hoey's high hopes
Defending champion Michael Hoey talks to Sky Sports about Morocco, the Masters & McIlroy.
By Mark Kendall
Last Updated: 26/03/13 3:52pm
This week the European Tour returns to Morocco for one of the more fascinating and exclusive stop-offs on the calendar - the Trophee Hassan II.
The tournament takes place in the grounds of the Royal Palace of Agadir on a pristine private course only ever played by his Majesty King Mohamed VI and his guests.
The man defending his title at the immaculate Golf du Palais Royal lay-out will be Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey, who produced a weekend of sustained brilliance 12 months ago to clinch the title.
A former British Amateur champion, Hoey shot matching rounds of 65 last year on Saturday and Sunday to eventually streak away to a three-shot victory.
With four career victories on his CV, Hoey certainly knows what it takes to win on the European Tour and is hoping a return to the spectacular surrounds in Agadir will see his game click once again after a somewhat inconsistent start to the season.
The 34-year-old spoke to Sky Sports ahead of his defence to discuss Morocco, the Masters and Rory McIlroy amongst other things.
Skysports.com: Hi Michael, how would you assess your season so far?
Michael Hoey: It's not been the start that I would have wanted. My form has been a little inconsistent but I've been working hard in Dubai and I know my swing is getting better, as was demonstrated last week in India - I hit a lot more fairways and greens over the two days than I had in the events earlier in the season. I feel like I'm starting to putt better so I'm hoping this will show soon in my results. It would be nice if it happened in Morocco.
SS: Do you set yourself any specific targets ahead of the season? If so, what are the objectives for 2013?
MH: Yes - to reach DP World again this year. I also set targets about how many cuts I make, how many fairways and greens I hit and how many putts I have per round. To get back into the World Top 100 and then progress into the Top 50 are longer term goals.
SS: You are defending your Trophee Hassan II title in Morocco this week, what are your memories of that win last year?
MH: Yes - I'll be in Morocco. It's a great honour to play on the course. Last year was great. I found a groove in my swing over the last three rounds and I putted really well. It's the best I've ever scored over three days, so I was really pleased with my performance Friday to Sunday. The course is also right on the coast and I love playing by the sea; hearing the waves roll in is kind of magical.
SS: What is it about the course and tournament that ended up suiting you so well?
MH: Everything just went well that week, we had a villa close to the course and it was all very relaxed. Gareth Maybin and Jamie Gough stayed with Bev (my wife) and I so it was great fun. Car journeys in our rental car were a little scary but great fun! I like the location, as I said playing by the sea is something I prefer as it reminds me of growing up on the links at home in Northern Ireland. There's hardly a divot on the course and it's always in immaculate condition so it's always an enjoyable week.
SS: The Masters is now just around the corner once again. Who do you fancy for this year's Green Jacket?
MH: Even though Rory has been getting a hard time of late the course sets up well for his high draw and I think he will be in the mix come the end of the weekend. I don't think Tiger is driving the ball well enough to win but I'm sure he will come close. There's 50 players who can win it now, as there's so much depth of talent in the fields that it's hard to predict what will happen. I'll watch a little of the final day action but will try and stay away from most of the coverage.
SS: Having won the 2001 British Amateur Championship you got to play in the Masters the following year. What memories do you have of the week at Augusta?
MH: Playing at Augusta was a great experience, the course is fantastic and the atmosphere is unbelievable. Amen Corner was very quiet, which is part of what makes the atmosphere so special. I got to play a practice round with Padraig Harrington which was also great. I only missed the cut by one so I was pretty happy with how I played. The most memorable bit of the trip was getting to stay in the Crows Nest - to get to stay on site was unbelievable. Having the whole place to yourself when everyone else went home, now that is special!
SS: As a fellow Northern Irishman, how well do you know Rory McIlroy and what have you made of his start to the season and the ensuing media coverage?
MH: I don't know him that well but he's a great guy and I really enjoyed playing with him in China at the end of last year. It was the first time I'd ever played a round in a tournament with him. I think he's great for the game. When you are world No 1 and you sign massive contracts, media coverage comes along as part of the deal, it's just how things are I guess. He's only played four tournaments this year so I think it's a little premature to judge what's going on. I'm sure he will adjust to the new equipment and go on to achieve even more titles in the very near future.
SS: Rory is just one of the high-profile European Tour players to have moved to America to play on the PGA Tour full-time. How do you view this development and do you fear for the future of the European Tour?
MH: I think everyone wants to be playing for the prize funds on offer in America, especially when you consider the crowds and the atmosphere generated at a PGA event. The European Tour doesn't have the same attraction for spectators. The travel is also a lot tougher than in America for six months of the year. It's tough but I guess its a question of economics and family life for a lot of the players. Europe has some advantages though, you get to experience many different cultures and climates throughout the season so it's always interesting! I think there's also more camaraderie with the other players on the ET and I've heard some guys say they miss that when they go to America.
SS: If the opportunity presented itself would you consider moving to play in America full-time?
MH: I'm not sure about full-time but I would like the option to be able to play in America. It would be a big family decision at that stage so it wouldn't just be based on the golf. I do like the variety we have in Europe, you don't get quite the same variety in America, and I can get home to Northern Ireland frequently which is really important to me.
SS: Is there one tournament on the schedule that you particularly look forward to each year?
MH: The Irish Open and the Dunhill Links are two of my favourites. Ireland because it's home and the crowds are always amazing. The Dunhill was always a favourite even before I won it in 2011. It's on three fantastic courses so it's hard not to enjoy it. I also enjoy the Abu Dhabi Championship at the start of the year and the European Masters in Crans-sur-Sierre in September, the setting is magnificent, hopefully we don't get snow this year. In general I prefer the "home" tournaments, those in the UK and Ireland, hopefully we can get a few more in the calendar.
This year I'm also really looking forward to playing in the Northern Ireland Challenge at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, it's exciting to have a Challenge Tour event being hosted back home, after a ten-year absence. I'm thrilled to be involved as an ambassador for the event.
SS: Who are your best friends on Tour, the ones you spend most time with? (And do they have any bad habits you're willing to share with us?!)
MH: I'm quite quiet and tend to keep myself to myself most of the time. Bev also travels with me a lot so that curtails the amount of time I spend with the other lads but I do spend time with Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin, Damian McGraine and Rhys Davies. No bad habits to share - they're all perfect gentlemen!
SS: What is your take on the ongoing long-putter controversy? Are you in favour of a ban and do you believe the current divisions are harming the game?
MH: I think any anchoring should not be permitted, I guess I'm quite traditional in that respect. I don't think guys look good using the belly or long putter. I think it is easier to repeat the stroke but it's still not an easy method to use. I did have a brief flirtation with it a while back but didn't really get on with it so went back to my normal putter.