Sunday 25 August 2019

Sugrue's major success

James Sugrue is in seventh heaven after brilliant success in the R&A Amateur last week

James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, lines up a putt for par on the 17th hole during the final day of the R&A Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin.
Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, lines up a putt for par on the 17th hole during the final day of the R&A Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Sheehan

There seemed to be some surprise in the national media about James Sugrue's magnificent win last weekend in the British Amateur Open.

Some outlets have described the win as a shock, using his pre-competition ranking of 231 in the world amateur rankings as justification for this contention, but few if any in north Cork golfing circles would be totally surprised at this success.

Sugrue has been making steady, incremental, impressive progress throughout his short golfing career starting with the Connacht Boys title a number of years ago. Then winning several other national titles before blowing the Irish golfing world apart two years ago when he claimed The South at Lahinch in front of a strong field.

Recently the twenty-two year old was named in the extended squad for the Walker Cup team, which yet again identified the Mallow man as one of the top golfers of his generation and now thanks to this amazing success he can look forward to a starting berth on that team for September's clash with the USA at Royal Liverpool.

The small matter of a trip to The Open at Portrush next month also awaits with August's US Amateur at Pinehurst, next year's US Open at Winged Foot and an invitation to play in next year's Masters Tournament at Augusta National all in the Mallow man's immediate golfing future.

Sugrue's first Major challenge will be in Royal Portrush in the 2019 Open where he will likely stand side by side on the tee-box with reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari for the first two rounds with the eyes of the golfing world firmly on the youngest child of Margaret and Michael Sugrue.

The first thing that surprised the new Amateur Champion was the crowds that turned up to support him throughout the week.

"It was amazing," he says.

"I have never played in front of a crowd like that. Not many amateurs have to be fair, it was outrageous - even compared to an Irish Am or The South - they would not even be close to that crowd.

"The crowds just seemed to get bigger on Saturday too. There were six marshals on duty in the morning but they had to bring in more with 34 on duty in the afternoon. Portmarnock was really unreal.

"They just love their golf up there, and the R&A as well just know how to run a tournament. I have not one bad thing to say about Portmarnock or the R&A they were brilliant.

"I played fairly decent golf all week with a good short game and good putting - fairly solid all week, but I didn't feel I was hitting the ball very well when it came to the long irons.

"I don't really know why I wasn't and I hit a couple of funny shots, but my short game got me out of a few holes and holed a few nice putts as well in the semi-final and final in particular."

Sugrue's win made it all the sporting headlines but some notable stars of the game also sat up and took notice.

"It was great to get a tweet from Rory McIlroy after the win saying he would see me at the Open, that was really cool. Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry too. It is an amazing opportunity for me and I am really looking forward to it.

"I really hope to get the chance to shake Tiger Woods' hand if I am near him on the range. He is my all-time favourite and that would be the best thing ever."

Sugrue came into the Amateur Open ranked as number 231, but his golf was much better than that ranking suggested, but Sugrue really isn't interested in those numbers and isn't even really sure how they are calculated.

"The WAGR [World Amateur Golf Rankings] system is kind of weird how it is worked out and no one is really sure how they come up with it. You would see lots of lads waiting for them to come out every Wednesday, but really, I am not that interested in it.

"I could go from one end of the month to the next without looking at the rankings. I care more about how I am playing and if I am playing well that is what counts to me.

"Golf is a funny game in the sense that you can do everything right and not win and you can be a little off and pick up a win. You could have a great year and not win anything. That is the weird thing about golf.

"Playing well and being consistent and competitive is the most important thing and hopefully you will then get the wins to follow that."

Sugrue's progression has been almost metronomic by its nature and the powerful player has found himself reaching his markers in a manner that has been consistent with his own goals.

"When I was playing seven or eight years ago I wanted to win a Boys, a Youths, a Championship like one of the Souths and something abroad - thankfully that something abroad came to Portmarnock last week and I am just delighted.

"I also have love playing in South Africa over the last few years and I have to thank the GUI for that. The stuff that the GUI do for us there and everywhere with exposure, warm weather training and everything else is amazing, I am delighted to win it for them as well."

By Sugrue's side all last week, and indeed for all the big events in recent times has been his caddy Conor Dowling and Sugrue is delighted that he had his friend by his side.

"Conor was with me all the way and he was great. It is handy to have a caddy with you as it gives you someone to talk to as opposed to having to make small talk with the fellow you are playing with or else just not talking at all.

"It is helpful that you can just be yourself with someone that knows you. We had a great time quoting a Puerto Rican guy that was living in America all his life that I played with earlier in the week and we had a great laugh doing that.

"Outside of that you also have someone to help you in decision making. If I think it is right edge on a putt and so does he then that is very reassuring. Of course if he doesn't say it is the same then that's not great but what would normally happen is he might say have another look at it. He would know not to just say what he thinks first, he will wait for me to say it first.

"It is also very important that a caddy says nothing at the right time too. The last thing you want is someone coming out with all the cliché stuff when you hit a bad shot.

"You are only human and it is alright to be pissed off with yourself when you hit a bad shot but you need to get on it again and keep it going."

Any decision on whether Sugrue was going to turn pro has now been put on the back burner for obvious reasons however that is likely to be the goal twelve months from now.

"Yea, the plan was looking at the end of the year but now this win has changed all that. It is unreal. There are professional golfers that play their whole lives and they never get to play in a major and here I am, not even a pro and I have the next three lined up.

"Three of the best ones as well. If I turn pro I don't get the invite so I will wait for the year and see what happens then."

Sugrue's heroics in Portmarnock last weekend may have come in the main thanks to his own talents, but he was well aware of the support that helped carry him to the biggest win of his career.

"There was a good crew from Mallow Golf Club there and I also had a lot of lads from Portmarnock that followed me. Especially one guy [Eric O'Brien] an elderly gentleman that followed me every single day, including the two practice rounds. It was brilliant."

Sugrue also had plenty of praise for his long-time coach Michael Collins and was genuinely delighted for his mentor's success.

"I have been working with Mick for about 10 years and I am delighted for him as well. It is a great boost for him as well."

Since the win, Sugrue has been invited to play in the upcoming Irish Open Pro-Am however the impending trip to Portrush for the Open and then onto America for the two big events there will likely keep the young Mallow man's attention more than occupied for the foreseeable future.