Portrush, Augusta, and New York will all be on James Sugrue’s agenda over the next 12 months. That’s part of his reward for winning the famous Amateur Championship in Portmarnock. The 22 year old Mallow man created a piece history, becoming only the second Cork golfer to win the most famous prize in amateur golf. As the winner he’ll play in the Open Championship in Portrush next month, he’ll play in the US Open in Winged Foot New Jersey next year, and the established tradition is that the Amateur Championship winner always receives an invitation to the Masters. Watched by his parents Margaret and Mick, and sister Michelle and brother Edward, and hundreds of supporters and friends from Mallow, James calmly rolled up at 15 foot putt on the 18th green to seal the win. The Irish International golfer took an early lead in the final, but after 33 holes, his Scottish opponent had it back to all square. While admitting to some nerves as the match came to a close, James was delighted to please the crowd which was the biggest in history.
“I’m just kind of happy I did it for the crowds, really, as I didn’t want all those people who came out to support me to see me end up losing” said the champion. “It’s more relief than anything else really to get over the line, especially after being three up going into the afternoon session. I’m just delighted to do it.” A crowd of over 3,000 people – the biggest ever to watch an Amateur Championship final lined the greens and fairways, and there was huge support from Mallow with over 100 members and friends there at 8.30am for the first tee shot. The 22 year old now adds the Amateur Championship to his impressive list of wins which includes the 2017 South of Ireland. Sugrue played some brilliant golf in the final, going under par in both rounds despite the immense pressure of the occasion. After a blistering start he was five up after nine holes. Walker fought back on the back nine and won two holes. Just before lunch it looked like Sugrue would go five up again on the 18th. But a mistake followed by a great putt from Walker meant that Sugrue started the second round three up. While he may have been disappointed coming off the 18th green, he still had a big lead. James held the margin at the start of the second round, but on the back nine again Walker applied huge pressure. He got it back to all square on 15 but Sugrue along with his caddy Conor Dowling maintained their composure.
Sugrue won the 17th where he was very strong all week, and he parred the 18th to secure the historic win. “I was very worried when it went back to all square, very worried. Euan is just that type of player where he doesn’t really hit bad shots. He has got a beautiful swing and very rarely hits bad shots. I wasn’t expecting to be given holes. Sometimes you can keep plodding away against other players and they will slip up eventually, but Euan not so much. I had to create opportunities myself and thankfully it worked.”
The Amateur Championship is the biggest event in amateur golf. On Monday and Tuesday 288 golfers played 36 holes on Portmarnock and The Island, and from there the top 64 entered a match play-off over four days. After an opening 77 in Portmarnock on Monday, Sugrue needed a better round on Tuesday, and he birdied his final hole in The Island to qualify. From there he went on to beat some of the world’s best amateurs, including world number seven David Micheluzzi in the semi-final. From there he faced Scotland’s Euan Walker, a fellow Walker Cup panellist in the 36 hole final.
Despite the long hard format of nine rounds in six days, Sugrue and his caddy Conor Dowling kept a solid routine. That helped them as they headed into the final sixteen and the final four. On Friday night the pair kept the same routine, they hit a few balls under the watchful of the Irish National Coach Neil Manchip, got a burger and chilled out. And that was evident on Saturday as the final was played in front of record crowds, calm and relaxed Sugrue set about his task, and came home as the Amateur Champion 2019.
Mallow Captain, John Martin O’Keeffe was in Portmarnock from Friday and he was delighted to see the troops arrive on Saturday. “I knew there was a crowd on the way from all the messages but it was only when I looked down a packed fairway and realised that I recognised most of the faces that I realised just how many travelled” said the Captain. “Obviously it was the greatest weekend in the club’s history but James is such an unassuming and loyal man that the fondness we have for him means that we are not thinking about ourselves and what it means for the Club at this time, only for him, his future and his place in history. James was originally supposed to be flying out with the Irish team after the tournament. When we realised he was coming home we sent one text and that filled the Clubhouse. We were there late into the night, the buzz of excitement went on and on.”
Bandon’s John Carroll is the Irish Captain, and he agreed with James’ decision to step down from the Irish team that are in Austria this week for the European Championships. While he does have this week off, Sugrue’s schedule for this year and next has changed dramatically. Portrush, Liverpool, Augusta and New Jersey were all added to his schedule. As a result of the win, James will play in three Majors over the next 10 months, and his selection for the Walker Cup in Liverpool is assured.