Hoey at career crossroads

By Brian Keogh

Michael Hoey is praying that next week's World Cup bid with Gareth Maybin can signal an end to his career crisis.

The former British Amateur champion and Walker Cup ace, 28, was once regarded as Ireland's great new golfing hope.

But after six years of struggles in the pro ranks, Hoey jetted out to China today seriously considering his future in the game.

And if something doesn't give over the next 12 months, he could be forced to throw in the towel and look for a job in the real world.

Battling his inner demons, Hoey said: "I thought about taking some time off from the game. But what would I do? I don't really want to be at home in a regular job or playing in the driving rain.

"I really have to give it a go next year and see where I am because I will be 29 next season and I've said to myself that I have to give it a go before I am 30.

"I feel that should be finishing comfortably inside the top 15 on the Challenge Tour. But if you are struggling at 40th or 50th you need to take a harsh look at reality.

"If you are not around that top mark on the Challenge Tour you are wasting your time and I would be a straight shooter.

"I wouldn't be the kind of guy who would be fooling himself and saying: 'Oh yes, you can do it'. There is no point in saying that unless you are actually up there."

Hoey grabbed his tour card for the 2006 season through the Challenge Tour but crashed to 187th in the money list and back to the second tier circuit after failing to make it to the Qualifying School finals.

He looked certain to get back into the big leagues again this year when he won on the Challenge Tour in May.

But he made just four cuts from 13 starts after that, finished 54th in the Challenge Tour rankings and then crashed out at the second stage of the Q-School.

Next week's Omega Mission Hills World Cup is a golden opportunity for Hoey to get some confidence and boost his bank balance.

With $50,000 for the team finishing last in the 24-nation World Cup, he can cash in big time and use the money to finance a crucial 2008 campaign.

Yet the reality is that Hoey is at a low ebb with his game and his confidence is spiralling downwards with every reverse.

What to do next is his biggest problem and the Ulsterman is seriously considering a trip to the Asian Tour School, which takes place in Malaysia in three weeks time

A surprise visitor the Q-School finals this week, Hoey has been practising in Spain for the World Cup.

But he confessed: "You have to realise why you haven't achieved your potential. Whether it is technical or mental.

"I have to try and realise what I am doing wrong because it has not been a good year at all.

"I just have to try and sit down and understand why and take advantage of the World Cup next week.

"It will be important to be in a good frame of mind because it is certainly the biggest money event that I have ever played in - ever.

"I have to try and get myself into a positive frame of mind. Even though I won a Challenge Tour event this year, I have just driven the ball horrendously.

"I have been working really hard this year though, so there is not much else I can do.

"Missing out on the tour school has been a blow but it is also a blessing in disguise because it means that Gareth and I have had more time to get ready for China.

"We're definitely not going out there to make up the numbers either. We have both played with players who are at a much higher level and we realise that they are not that much better than we are.

"There isn't really that much of a difference apart from the fact that they are a lot more consistent.

"I've played with all these guys before and they are not that much better than I am. I know that. It's just consistency that separates us.

"We have to go out there with the frame of mind that if we chip and putt well, we can do really well."

As for next season, Hoey could be playing the early part of the year in Asia before returning to the Challenge Tour grind.

He said: "I am actually going to the Asian Tour qualifying school the week after the World Cup.

"I get straight into the final stage because I am in the World Cup. But the week after that I am going to play in the New Zealand Open and then the Qualifying School in Asia.

"I don't think I'll play the Challenge Tour events in Central America at the start of the year because it is very expensive."

If there's no crisis in China, Hoey could get the boost he was looking for.