By Brian Keogh
Ireland has finally found two golfers willing to qualify for November’s Omega Mission Hills World Cup in China.
But the problems have only just begun for Ulstermen Michael Hoey and Gareth Maybin, who have saved Ireland from major international embarrassment by agreeing to travel to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles for the World Cup Qualifying Tournament at Tierra del Sol Golf Club from 27-30 September.
The Challenge Tour pair must first make their way from next week’s Kazakhstan Open to the Carribbean via Amsterdam - a trip that could cost them up to €4,000 each. On their arrival they will then be required to beat off competition from up to 20 nations for just five qualifying spots in the event proper, which will be played at Mission Hills from 22-25 November.
The rewards will be great if they can make it past the likes of Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Serbia, Israel and Guatemala with 28th and last place in China worth a cool $25,000 a man.
But if both men continue to play well on the Challenge Tour, they will finish in the top 45 on the money list and qualify automatically for the 108-hole European Tour Qualifying School Finals at San Roque in southern Spain, scheduled for November 15-20.
Should they do that and play all six rounds - weather delays permitting - Maybin and Hoey will have just 48 hours to get from Spain to China for their first round tee times.
“That’s a bridge we will cross when we come to it,” said their manager Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management. “It would have been ridiculous for Ireland not to enter a team in the World Cup when we hosted the Ryder Cup last year and Padraig Harrington is the Open champion.
“I will be contacting the Team Ireland Golf Trust to see if it can help fund the trip to Aruba because we are not talking about Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke here. Factoring everything in we reckon it will cost the boys anything between €3,000 and €4,000 each, travelling economy."
Hoey, who won the British Amateur championship in 2001, has won two tournaments on the Challenge Tour since he turned professional in 2002 and is currently 43rd on the rankings and looking good for a trip to San Roque for the Qualifying School finals .
Speaking from the Challenge Tour event in Madrid where he is tied for 13th at halfway, Maybin said: "It's by 27th birthday today so this is a great day for me. It's a dream to tee it up for Ireland again after my amateur days and we'll be going for it in the qualifiers.
"Anything is possible. It's important that Ireland has a team at the World Cup and we certainly won't be going there to make up the numbers, I can assure you of that."
Hoey added: "Obviously I have played in a lot of European Tour events and other big golf tournaments in recent years, but to get the opportunity to represent Ireland at a World Cup would be a dream come true.
“My primary concern at the moment is trying to win back my European Tour card for 2008, but this is an opportunity I cannot turn down.”
Maybin, who celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday, is 56th in the Challenge Tour rankings after playing just six events, mainly on sponsor’s invitations. He has been based in Alabama for the last three years, winning twice on the satellite Hooter’s Tour and earning over $175,000 in prize money.
In the 52-year history of the World Cup, Ireland has only once failed to enter a team. That scenario arose in 1953 when the Golfing Union of Ireland, which controlled amateur and professional international golf teams at the time, failed to enter a team for the inaugural Canada Cup in Montreal, won by Argentina's Antonio Cerda and Roberto De Vicenzo.
The only time Ireland has been required to qualify for a professional team competition came in 1985, when Ronan Rafferty, Des Smyth and Eamonn Darcy travelled to Italy and successfully qualified for the inaugural Dunhill Cup.