James Sugrue is heading stateside in April, his Augusta dreams came a step closer this week when he received his official invitation to the 2020 Masters Tournament. The Mallow man had been scheduled to receive an invitation to the famous tournament after winning the Amateur Championship last June, and the official invitation finally arrived this week. “It was unreal to finally get it” said Sugrue. “I thought it was coming in the last week of December so I’ve been waiting for a while!” Although the invite was never in doubt, it was an exciting wait for the Sugrue family to finally get confirmation of James’ place in the field. An invitation to the Masters Tournament is traditionally given to the winner of the four major amateur competitions, (US, British, Asia-Pac, Latin America) provided they remain amateur. The amateur status means that Sugrue is not eligible for any of the prize money on offer, but a good performance in April will give his status a huge boost as he considers moving to the paid ranks later in the summer.
Last year Sugrue became the second Cork golfer to win the Amateur Championship, following Jimmy Bruen’s great achievement in 1946. This year he’ll go one better when he becomes the first Cork golfer to play in the prestigious major. With Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy also in the field, hopes will be high for a good performance from all three Irish golfers. For Lowry and McIlroy, it’s a return to Augusta. It will be Lowry’s fifth appearance, he made the cut in 2016 and had a memorable hole in one at the 16th in the final round. McIlroy has unfinished business at the Masters. He’s still chasing a win in Georgia to complete his career grand slam. The Ulster man, currently ranked second in the world, has had four top ten finishes in the last six years. The expectations are slightly different for 23 year old Mallow golfer. While it’s a first trip to the Masters, Sugrue is going with high hopes. He’s set a target to make the cut and play in all four tournament rounds. Sugrue played in the Open Championship in Portrush in July and missed the cut by one shot. That narrow miss has spurred him on and now he’s set himself a very achievable target for the two remaining majors on his radar. It’ll be a great week for the Sugrue family, James’ girlfriend Christina is going, his parents Margaret and Michael are travelling along with his sister and brother Michelle and Edward. Several more friends and supporters are travelling. The tournament starts on Thursday 9th April and the Sugrue family are heading over for the week. Another key member of Team Sugrue is Conor Dowling, who has caddied for James at major events for the past three years. Close friends since they both played together as juniors in Mallow, Dowling was on the bag back in 2018 when James shot a superb 65 in Open Championship qualifying. Conor is a scratch golfer himself and has been playing to a high level since he was a teenager. He has partnered James at all of the major events and was at his best in Portmarnock last June. Dowling looped for Sugrue in Portrush and he’ll be on the bag again in Augusta for the biggest event in golf.
But first they’ll be supporting James in the Georgia Cup. That’s a traditional match between the Amateur champion and the US Amateur winner. This will be the 23rd staging of the event in Golf Club of Georgia, and Sugrue will take on Andy Ogletree from Georgia Tech. The event is a 36 hole matchplay event and will be a good competitive warm up for the Masters. Sugrue will have a busy schedule before his two weeks in Georgia. And the season starts next week when he heads off to South Africa with the GUI on Irish duty. The GUI have used the South Africa trip as a winter training event, combining some warm weather practice with two top ranking elite amateur events. This will be Sugrue’s third time on the training panel and he’s really looking forward to the trip. “I can’t wait for the season to start and I’m really looking forward to South Africa” added Sugrue who has spent the past few weeks practicing in Mallow and at Fota Island Academy. “We always have a few weeks of practice and tournament golf out there. This year we’re playing Leopard Creek and Randpark, two unbelievable golf courses. Randpark was where the South African Open was held last week and Leopard Creek is another European Tour venue.” The South African may be the last Irish team trip for Sugrue. He indicated before Christmas that he’s planning to turn professional after the US Open in June.
After South Africa, Sugrue will head for the Middle East. He’s received an invitation to play in the Oman Open. The European Tour event takes place at the end of February and it will be another ideal opportunity to build his familiarity with the pro tour events. The schedule for March is undecided as yet but a trip to Orlando is a possibility as the Amateur Champion normally receives an invite to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Bay Hill. Regardless of the plan for March, Sugrue will have plenty to look forward to, up until the US Open in New York in June.