2019 was a stellar year for Cork golfers. With seven Corkmen winning international caps, there were plenty of great performances among several notable individual wins. Just three years ago there wasn’t a single Cork golfer on the national mens squad, this year there were three golfers to reach that standard in what must be regarded as a great run for Cork golf. With three seniors, one boys and three mens representatives, it was an impressive number of caps. Top of the list of course was James Sugrue, the Amateur Champion. The Mallow man won the Castletroy Scratch Cup in May, but less than a month later his world would change with the win of a lifetime in Portmarnock. An Amateur Championship win seemed unlikely at a few stages during that week in Dublin. After just five holes on the first day of qualifying Sugrue branded the course as “insanely long”, and he found himself three down deep into the back nine in the second round of matchplay. In what was a marathon rather than a sprint, Sugrue played himself into form, thanks in equal parts to a new Titleist driver, solid advice from Neil Manchip and a hot putter. On that Saturday morning playing in the Amateur Championship final, few would have thought it was his seventh round of the week. He sprinted into a five up lead against Scotland’s Ewan Walker. Despite the impressive start, the final would prove to be another marathon lasting the full 36 holes. The Mallow man, watched by a record crowd of over 3,000 claimed the win on the final green, becoming the second Cork golfer after Jimmy Bruen to win the Amateur Championship. That win saw Sugrue’s schedule change, with an unplanned visit to Portrush for the Open championship taking priority in his calendar. James was very unlucky to miss the cut, a lost ball on the 14th on Friday cost him a place at the weekend when Shane Lowry created his own bit of history. Although injury hampered Sugrue towards the end of the season he had the honour of raising the Irish flag at the Walker Cup in Royal Liverpool in September.
Peter O’Keeffe started the year off with a win, he came out on top in Muskerry in April winning their senior scratch cup. A five under par 66 gave O’Keeffe a good start and he was under par again in the second round to win the competition by two strokes. It was the second time that O’Keeffe won in Muskerry, his first coming 13 years ago in 2006. O’Keeffe was fifth in the East of Ireland and topped that by reaching the final of the North in July. Prior to the North he spent the week in Lahinch caddying for Robin Dawson in the Open. Peter finished second in the North of Ireland, which this year moved to Portstewart and Castlerock due Portrush staging the Open Championship. He lost out to Englishman Aaron Edwards Hill after a final that went to the 17th hole. The Douglas man was back in Lahinch later on in July, this time as a player in the South of Ireland. He started well, finishing in the top ten after the Strokeplay qualifier. He then proceeded to win against James Fox and Paul Buckley in the matchplay before losing out to Hugh Foley. Peter’s second win of the season came in the form of another national title. He came out on top in Royal Belfast at the 54 hole Irish Mid-Amateur Championship. O’Keeffe shot rounds of 68, 70 and 71 in a wire to wire win that saw him win by one shot from Colm Campbell. It was another national title for the Douglas man who won the Irish Amateur Open in 2017. O’Keeffe finished the season with a trip to the US to represent Ireland at the Carey Cup in New Jersey.
It was a mixed year for Kinsale’s John Murphy, after spending Christmas in Australia he returned to Kentucky in January for his final semester as a junior. Murphy had a good run in the Spring events, carding two top ten and several team results. It took Murphy a while to settle back and he had a few missed cuts before showing some impressive form in the South of Ireland. A quarter final placing was enough to get his season back on track, and two weeks later he won the famous Mullingar Scratch Cup. It was a welcome return to form, and Murphy again proved his mettle as he was put under pressure down the stretch. Murphy was two off the lead going into the final round but a good finish saw him leapfrog the leader Matt McClean. He birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th to take the lead but crucially he bogied the 17th to tie with McClean. With great maturity he strategically parred the closing hole to finish one ahead of the field on seven under par. With a history going back over 50 years, the Mullingar Scratch Cup was included as a GUI Order of Merit event this year, adding to the importance of the win for Murphy. The following week he returned to Kentucky and the good form continued with a win and three top tens in the fall series events. With Sugrue, O’Keeffe and Murphy all named in the 2020 GUI Mens panel, the year ahead is filled with more promise and potential.
Irish Caps also went to three seniors and one Boys cap was also awarded to Fionn Hickey, while on the ladies side, two Cork golfers retained their Irish places. There were Irish seniors caps for Pat Lyons, John O’Brien and Karl Bornemann who were selected for the senior home internationals in England in September. Although there was disappointment for the side following a half point loss to hosts England, there were some great performances from the Cork golfers. Lyons and O’Brien were paired off in the foursomes and proved to be a winning combination. It was a return to Irish action for Bornemann after a two year gap, but for Lyons the gap was longer. Lyons won his first Irish Cap in 1986. For O’Brien it was his first time to represent his country, gaining his place on the team thanks to solid performances all through the seniors season. O’Brien and Bornemann were also on the European Seniors team, and after a slid start in the early stages of the competition, O’Brien sunk the crucial putt on the 19th hole in the semi-final to send Ireland through to the final. Unfortunately the Irish side lost out to England in the final but it was a great week for O’Brien in Denmark. Fionn Hickey was another Cork golfer to gain an international cap in 2019, the Muskerry youngster made the Boys Home Internationals team and won three matches and halved one as Ireland finished second. Hickey was again a prolific entrant, playing in almost every tournament available to him. Early in the year he won the East Cork Senior Scratch Cup as the Midleton club celebrated their 50th anniversary, and in June he won the Under 17 section at the Irish Boys in New Forest. The 17 year old made huge strides in 2019 and was one of an impressive group of Muskerry juniors. He was part of the successful Muskerry team that won the Munster Fred Daly Trophy title on the team front. There were also call-ups to Irish representative teams for James Walsh, Eoghan Cassidy, Mel Deasy and Jack Murphy, the trio are among the next generation of Cork golfers likely to gain full caps.
On the ladies and girls side, Sara Byrne was again selected for the Irish Girls for the Home Internationals, while Cork’s Rachel Thompson played on the Irish Ladies side in Scotland. With another large group of golfers gaining Munster caps for the inter provincial matches, hopes will be high in 2020 for a similar number of Cork golfers to represent Ireland.