At 9.26 this morning, James Sugrue will begin his challenge for the 36-hole Mallow Scratch Cup. It represents a starkly different scene from the grand plans he was making early this year as the reigning British Amateur Champion.
Sugrue's golfing world began to fall apart on the ominous date of Friday, March 13. That was when an e-mail from Augusta National's chairman, Fred Ridley, advised him that the upcoming Masters Tournament was postponed. Then came word that the US Open, to which he was also invited, would be put back from its original date in June.
"The plan was to play the Masters, return for the Memorial and the US Open and turn pro in late June after Winged Foot," he said last week. "Now, because of the way things have been changed by the virus, I'll probably wait until the new year."
For the 23-year-old, serenity has been a reluctant visitor in recent months, yet he still retains remarkable gratitude for what might appear to be small mercies. For instance, he took great comfort initially from the Masters being postponed, rather than cancelled for the year.
The recent news, however, that its November staging is to be behind closed doors, was yet another blow. "I'm trying to remain upbeat but I feel sorry for my parents and family members who had planned to make the trip," he said.
When the postponement was originally announced, there was still the prospect of his mother, Margaret, and father, Mick, joining him on the trip of a lifetime. His brother and sister were also planning to be there with about 10 other relatives and friends from the Mallow area.
"Like millions everywhere," Sugrue went on, "the Masters is something I've watched from an early age and dreamed of playing in. My first memory of it is the final round of 2005, seeing Tiger Woods leave his ball on the edge of the 16th hole before it eventually dropped in."
A few members of Mallow GC also succumbed to Augusta's allure. In fact they arranged a trip to Harbour Town in South Carolina prior to heading westwards for the Masters. They, too, had to cancel. So, it is hardly surprising that in the midst of so many disappointments, Sugrue is afraid to look beyond the next event.
He even had to abandon plans to defend his Amateur crown at Royal Birkdale in recent days, so as to conform with Government advice on non-essential travel, as conveyed by the Golfing Union of Ireland.
"An enduring memory of driving into Portmarnock last year is of R and A posters of South Africa's Jovan Rebula, the 2018 champion," he reflected. "I got to thinking that maybe they'd do the same for me at Royal Birkdale. And I came to love the course after the experience of playing there in Walker Cup training last year."
Before his successor is crowned as Amateur champion, however, Sugrue can take pride in a rather special aspect of his 14-month reign. This was the distinction of having the precious trophy at Mallow GC last year.
"It was for the Scratch Cup in which I lost to Ben Murray of Waterford Castle," he said. "The occasion was especially notable for our club because I understand the trophy is insured for £1m and is rarely moved from St Andrews."
Another bright light in his reign as champion has been the reaction of Jack Nicklaus to the fact that Covid restrictions caused Sugrue to miss last month's rearranged Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. "The invitation to James will be extended to next year, even if he turns professional in the meantime," was the response of Scott Tolley from the Nicklaus organisation. And Sugrue has every intention of being there, if at all possible.
Meanwhile, there remains the prospect of competing in the US Open at Winged Foot, deferred from June 18-21 to September 17-20. Sugrue is heading to New York a week tomorrow and will carry with him the best wishes of Jay Connolly and fellow directors of Waterville GC.
The Winged Foot link with Waterville goes back to the original owner, John A Mulcahy, who was a member of the celebrated establishment in New York State. Connolly, a later member of the club, fought in Vietnam as a US army helicopter captain before going on to a career in Wall Street.
From this background, he spearheaded the purchase of Waterville GC from Mulcahy in 1987, along with fellow Winged Foot members, Leeda O'Grady Fletcher, Jay F Higgins, Richard F Leahy, James J McEntee and John W Meriwether. So, the link remains strong.
Another Irish link with the club is reputed to be the origin of the magical Mulligan, much loved by American devotees. When an Irishman named David Mulligan joined Winged Foot in 1937, he was seen to be a painfully slow starter, who always appeared to hit his opening drive into trouble. Noting how he repeatedly allowed himself the luxury of re-loading, observers took to describing his second drive as a 'Mulligan'.
Winged Foot is the creation of AW Tillinghast, who designed 14 courses in the Westchester area of New York State. We're told that his emphasis on what are now regarded as traditional, design values was influenced by regular trips to St Andrews at the beginning of the last century, which would include lessons from Old Tom Morris.
The architect later reflected: "Playing around the Old Course with the patriarch, made me feel as though my own game must seem glaringly new, just like walking up the church aisle in new, squeaky boots."
In the enforced absence of his mother and father, Sugrue will be relying for moral support on his caddie, Conor Dowling, a colleague at Mallow GC. Two years older than his 'master', he is a low-handicapper who has been a regular golfing colleague in recent years.
It's tough to see young sporting hearts stressed in the way Sugrue's has been, even before he has had the opportunity of playing for pay. Yet he remains admirably optimistic. There was a third-place finish in the Mullingar Scratch Trophy earlier this month and he relishes the good fortune of being able to hit practice shots, including drivers, in his own back garden.
"It's 300 yards from top to bottom," he explained with a grin. Then there are regular visits to his long-time coach, Michael Collins, at the local driving range at Copstown.
Mullingar exposed a bit of rust with the longer clubs, but Sugrue satisfied himself that his short game "wasn't too bad."
"My year was to have been a lot different," he added, with barely concealed regret. You feel he deserves better times ahead, and today's event at Mallow would be a welcome start.