Rico Hoey's decision to turn pro right after NCAAs pays off

Getty Images

Rico Hoey's decision to turn pro right after NCAAs pays off

Professional

Rico Hoey's decision to turn pro right after NCAAs pays off

Last December, Rico Hoey was among 16 U.S. players who attended the Walker Cup practice session at Los Angeles Country Club. At that time, Hoey figured he’d remain amateur after his final semester at USC, play in the U.S. Amateur at Riviera in his hometown Los Angeles and have a good chance to make it back to LACC in September as a member of the 10-man U.S. Walker Cup squad.

But plans changed.

Hoey turned pro after the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms, signed with management company Yee & Dubin, inked equipment and apparel deals with Callaway, and headed off to Canada as a member of the Mackenzie Tour.

Some questioned the decision, but Hoey didn’t want to end up in a situation like the ones LSU’s Sam Burns, UNLV’s John Oda and Hoey’s college teammate Sean Crocker experienced this summer. All three waited to turn pro for a shot at playing in the Walker Cup, but all were left off the team.

“I knew I was taking a risk, but there were risks both ways,” Hoey said. “I knew if I stayed amateur I was still going to take a risk; what if I didn’t get chosen to be on the (Walker Cup) team? I’m glad I made the choice to turn pro. Looking at the guys that made the team, I don’t think I would’ve had a chance to even sniff that team because they looked amazing. There’s so many great guys they had to choose from.”

(Hoey said he watched both the U.S. Amateur and Walker Cup on television.)

It didn’t take long for Hoey to find success as a pro. He tied for eighth at the Bayview Place Cardtronics Open, the week after his Trojans bowed out in the quarterfinals of match play at NCAAs, and notched three more top-8 finishes in his next four starts, including a T-2 at the Mackenzie Investments Open.

Rico Hoey is pictured at the 2015 NCAA Championship with Texas’ Doug Ghim.

Hoey, who was born in the Philippines before moving to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., as a kid, felt at home in Canada. A lot of it had to do with being around players who he competed against many times as an amateur.

“I saw guys like Hunter Stewart, Lee McCoy, Robby Shelton, even some of the veterans like T.J. Vogel,” Hoey said, “and growing up in amateur and college golf, I saw those names all the time and they’re really good. Having them on the tour really pushed me to become a better player.”

But it wasn’t all roses for the 21-year-old SoCal product. He had just one top 10 in five starts heading into the Mackenzie Tour finale, the Freedom 55 Financial Championship. He was also outside the top 5 on the tour’s Order of Merit; the top 5 after the event would earn Web.com Tour cards for next season and Hoey was 11th.

Hoey said he did struggle to manage his time, balancing practice with pro-ams, banquets and requirements of that sort.

“I would have tough stretches where I wouldn’t play good rounds, but I just told myself that this is the pro game now and I just have to adjust to it,” Hoey said. “Everyone has their struggles, but I’m glad I found a way to pull through.”

But Hoey never lost confidence, and it all clicked when it counted most. Hoey fired a third-round, 8-under 62 to take a comfortable lead into the final round at Highland Country Club. He ended up closing in 67 to edge former Oklahoma State player Jordan Niebrugge, another one of Hoey’s college contemporaries, by a shot.

Hoey will still go to Web.com Tour Q-School’s final stage later this year to improve his status, but he already has his card locked up.

“Getting my Web.com Tour card, I’m one step closer to achieving my dream,” Hoey said.

Hoey got emotional following his big win. Normally, Hoey is all smiles and brings a refreshingly candid and fun-loving personality to the game. The reason for the emotions? Hoey wasn’t born with a silver spoon and grew up on public golf courses. (He was a co-medalist at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links.) His family has supported his budding golf career practically his whole life, and now Hoey is repaying them by getting closer to his ultimate goal of playing on the PGA Tour.

“Sunday it all happened so fast, and then they told me that I got that fifth spot,” Hoey said. “And having my family supporting me throughout the year, just saying, you know what, you’re going to have struggles but we believe in you and we know you can do it. Having that support helped a lot.”

As a freshman at USC, Hoey was nicknamed “WGD” by Trojans head coach Chris Zambri. The acronym stood for “World’s Greatest Driver.” Hoey is an incredible driver of the golf ball (see the video above for proof) and is known to go driver off the deck from the tee box.

Asked if the Web.com Tour was ready for WGD, Hoey laughed and responded:

“I hope they are. I’m ready to prove it, so let’s do it.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home