Michael Hoey has claimed his second European Tour golf title of the year by winning the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
He birdied three of the last four holes to hold off a strong challenge from Rory McIlroy.
Hoey is relishing playing in events he could only previously watch on television following his impressive win.
Hoey’s two-shot success over fellow Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy at St Andrews earned him a place in this year’s HSBC Champions event and next year’s Bridgestone Invitational.
Both of those are World Golf Championship events limited to tournament winners and the top ranked players in the world, somewhere Hoey did not think he would be after six visits to the European Tour qualifying school and struggles which had him wondering if he wanted to keep playing the game.
“I’ve struggled with my belief,” the 32-year-old former British Amateur champion admitted.
“At times I’ve thought I’m unbelievably good and at times I’ve felt I just don’t have the consistency, which is what it’s all about.
“I played in the US Masters in 2002 and then turned pro. I struggled and missed my card at the qualifying school and the next year I was playing on the EuroPro Tour and missing cuts. To go from Augusta to playing not great courses on the EuroPro Tour, it’s a big change.
“It’s taken a long time (to get to this point) but in a weird way you enjoy it more because you’ve struggled through six years of qualifying school. It’s not nice when you’re running out of money and you’re confused about your golf swing and away every week travelling.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. Maybe when I’m playing the HSBC event and travelling with the guys next year to the States, maybe I’ll think ’I belong, I’ve earned my way into these events by winning the Dunhill Links’.
“I’ve watched a lot of golf on TV and always thought if I can play in those events I’d be unbelievably happy. It’s a dream come true.”
Hoey began the final round three ahead of compatriot Graeme McDowell and five clear of McIlroy, only for McIlroy to card four birdies and an eagle in a brilliant front nine of 30 to move into the lead.
The US Open champion birdied the second and then holed his second shot to the par-four third for an eagle two, his approach pitching past the flag but spinning back into the hole.
Further birdies at the sixth, seventh and ninth took McIlroy top of the leaderboard before Hoey hit back from his second bogey of the day on the seventh with birdies at the eighth and ninth to draw level.
McIlroy pulled ahead again after a superb tee-shot on the par-three 11th finished just two feet from the hole, but that surprisingly proved to be the 22-year-old’s last birdie of the day.
Hoey missed from four feet for birdie on the 14th after hitting two drivers to the front of the green – “I felt I was throwing this away at that stage,” he admitted – but quickly put that disappointment behind him with birdies on the next two holes from close range to take a lead he would not relinquish.