Hard work pays off for Michael

NORTH East Golf Professional Andrew Nicholson has scored a major success by helping one of his teaching charges land his first European Tour title.

NORTH East Golf Professional Andrew Nicholson has scored a major success by helping one of his teaching charges land his first European Tour title.

Nicholson, who runs the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at The Wynyard club in the Tees Valley and is the Senior European Director of Instruction for the David Leadbetter Academies, has been coaching aspiring British talent Michael Hoey for six years.

Hoey, from Northern Ireland, landed his biggest title to date back in April when he triumphed at the Estoril Open de Portugal at Oitavos Dunes, Cascais.

Nicholson has established himself as one of the most renowned teachers and technical experts in world golf and in the last few years has found a new high-profile role as a BBC golf analyst.

The Middlesbrough lad is delighted with Hoey's success though admits neither of them will now be resting on their laurels.

Golf North East caught up with the triumphant duo training at Wynyard in preparation for the UK swing of the European Tour, including the PGA Championship, The European and Welsh opens.

Nicholson said: "What Michael has achieved is fantastic. We didn't expect the win to happen so quickly even though Michael has had a string of Top 15 finishes already this year. But we certainly won't be sitting back and thinking we've done all the hard work now, so it's definitely not time to relax."

Hoey first hooked up with Nicholson in 2003 when a close friend from Northern Ireland and fellow GB&I International, Robin Symes, was travelling over from Belfast to take tuition from the golfing guru Nicholson.

Hoey said: "Robin said I should come across and see Andrew because he didn't think there was anyone better. I'm glad I did. I was based in the Leeds area for a while and so it was easier to get up to see Andrew.

"Now I'm on the European Tour we tend to do a lot of our work over the phone. We're pretty much in constant touch. But I always jump at the chance to come to see him at The Wynyard".

"I always enjoy coming back to the North East. I have travelled all round the World but find the members at The Wynyard incredibly friendly, it's so easy to relax around them and work on my game with Andrew. I especially enjoy playing at Wynyard, it's a great Course and the facilities at the Leadbetter Academy are first class."

Nicholson admits that it has been a pain-staking process with Hoey, who was a hugely talented though very instinctive player when they first met.

He added: "Michael was one of the best amateurs in the World with a brilliant record but he didn't really understand what he was doing right or wrong. We didn't try and rush things; we took it very steady. It was a case of trying to make Michael more aware of every aspect of his game and taking a systematic, logical approach to his development.

"To be a leading professional on the world circuit these days you have to be consistent and that mans being able to solidly repeat everything you do time after time no matter what the conditions are or the stresses of the situation.

"If you understand each element of your swing you can establish a bedrock for your entire game. You have to be able to immediately recognise tiny errors or changes and to do that you have to know exactly how it should be when it's going right. I think that's incredibly hard for most players to do. But something we aim for with Michael"

Hoey first played on Tour in 2002, the season he also qualified to play at the Masters at Augusta after turning Pro as Irish and British Amateur Champion.

He played on the Challenge Tour before winning a place back on the main Tour for 2006 but fell back to the second tier after finishing the campaign in 187th place.

Another couple of seasons followed on the Challenge Tour. He won his third title at the Moroccan Classic in May last year. He finished 2008 in 28th place in the order of merit and went to qualifying school full of confidence.

He said: "You play a lot of golf at qualifying school, getting through the different rounds and so on, but if you are consistent you can do well. Happily, I played very consistently because of all the work I've done with Andrew over the years.

"Throughout last season I could feel things coming together. I knew all the work we'd done was finally starting to pay dividends and I was coming to terms with my game and thoroughly understanding it."

He soared through Tour School to earn a place on the full European Tour this season - and his good form has continued.

Hoey is now in the top 30 on the order of merit and the win in Portugal has secured his card for next season.

Nicholson added: "It's a case of grinding forward for us, making sure that Michael continues to do the simple things right. A lot of the coaching we do is based on periodisation, which is an idea and concept born from athletics and in simple terms means practicing the right things at the right time. We try to do technical work in his off periods and concentrate on tournament awareness, frame of mind, key thoughts and so on when Michael is on the road.

"This is a fantastic period for young golfers in Northern Ireland with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy both doing well too. We just need to keep Michael performing consistently now and see what tomorrow brings?"

But it's not just the highest levels of the game that Nicholson is involved with.

The Leadbetter Academy also offers coaching to individuals no matter what their ability, age or handicap and is involved with teaching County Durham's finest young talent through their Three Year Bursary Program.

Nicholson said: "We try to look at a holistic approach for each golfer. A lot of people think our system is about a single swing for everyone but that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Everyone is different and everyone's swing consequently is different and so we try to concentrate on what is best for each player. We don't teach a method; our philosophy is geared toward the individual and takes into account body type, size, how much time they have for golf, strengths and weaknesses and so on. We come up with a different plan for every player."

Because of Andrew's reputation he admits that many of the people who seek his help tend to be aspiring juniors, professionals and low handicappers but he'd love to see more average club players taking advantage of the Leadbetter philosophy.

He said: "There does seem to be a misconception that the Academy is only for the better player but that's not true. We have huge success with golfers from all levels and backgrounds, this is a sport for all to enjoy and we do our best every day to make that enjoyment more rewarding.

"We've had a stream of high handicappers come through who've got down to single figures and said they wished they'd have come to us a lot earlier. It's as great a buzz for me to help a player break 80 for the first time or see a young kid win his junior club championship as see Michael lift the Portuguese Open."


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer