Thursday 22 August 2019

Crowds swarm to Portmarnock as Sugrue edges closer to history

James Sugrue and Australia’s David Micheluzzi after both birdied the 14th hole during yesterday’s Amateur Championship semi-final. Photo: Pat Cashman
James Sugrue and Australia’s David Micheluzzi after both birdied the 14th hole during yesterday’s Amateur Championship semi-final. Photo: Pat Cashman

Brian Keogh

It's been 73 years since Cork's Jimmy Bruen brought the Amateur Championship back to Ireland for the first time. Now Mallow's James Sugrue will bring a huge Cork crowd to Dublin today when he takes on Scotland's Euan Walker in the 36-hole final at Portmarnock.

The beefy 22-year-old is the embodiment of laid-back athletic confidence and power. But beneath the laid-back exterior he has the heart of a lion and the putting touch of an artist.

"That is what I was waiting for all year," Sugrue said of his putting. "I have been striping it around, but having 37 putts and not getting the most out of it. Today, at least, on a fairly big stage, the putter was hot."

Straight from the tee and gifted around the greens he produced two sensational victories in front of a burgeoning home crowd and can now dare to dream of the prizes that await the winner - starts in The Open next month and the Masters and US Open next year.

"You think about it in bed at night," he admitted yesterday as the crowd drifted away happily to chatter about a hugely enjoyable day's golf. A day that saw him fight back to beat the Dutchman Koen Kouwenaar on the 19th in the quarter-finals before seeing off a budding star in Australian world No 7 David Micheluzzi by 3&1 in the semi-finals.

"It's a bit of a cliché but you do. We were talking about an amateur sport and it's probably the best prize you can win this - to play in the Open, the Masters. When you say it, it sounds a bit weird but having the chance to do it is great."

A former Connacht Boys and Munster Youths winner, he was considered something of an underachiever until his win at Lahinch in 2017.

He's used that victory as a platform to become an established international, however, and he now has a chance to become Ireland's seventh Amateur champion - 73 years after fellow Corkman Bruen became the first.

Ranked 249th in the world, he has decompressed in the evenings by heading down to Portmarnock strand with his caddie to puck a sliotar around.

And while his friend's car was broken into on Thursday evening and items were stolen, his clubs were safe and sound in his own vehicle and he wielded them like offensive weapons yesterday.

While his fellow international, Galway's Ronan Mullarney, fell to England's Benjamin Jones by 3&1 in the quarters, Sugrue refused to go down against Kouwenaar.

One down with two holes to go after an error at the 16th, he looked doomed when he drove into sand at the 17th. But he got up and down from 140 yards to salvage a half in par, then made a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th before winning the 19th with a par four.

As news of his progress spread, the crowds swarmed to Portmarnock and Sugrue proved up to the task against the classy Micheluzzi, his short game yielding wins in par at the eighth, 10th and 11th to give him a three-hole lead.

When Micheluzzi won the 13th in par to reduce the deficit and then birdied the 14th from 15 feet it appeared the match could go the distance.


He sportingly fist-bumped his rival when Sugrue followed him in from 10 feet for a half though and looked on wryly when he saved par at the 16th to remain two up and then closed out the match at the 17th.

The Australian drove into deep rough and hacked out as Sugrue hit a blistering 250-yard three-wood to the apron that set up a deserved win.

"That was the coolest round I have ever played," the Australian said. "It beats the Aussie Open, the Vic Open, the Japan Open, all of them. The atmosphere was just unreal.

"If they don't have an Open here, I will be pretty angry. I have played courses like Royal St George's and St Andrews and this is too good… I can't even explain it. It's just a brute."

Sugrue is taking it all in his stride but with huge crowds following his every move he's determined to enjoy it.

"It's the most people I've ever seen out on a golf course following one group," he said. "It was amazing, to be fair, and a great experience and I'm just happy that I didn't let them all down."

Walker beat Jones 2&1 but he will be facing a man with a wand in his hand and the crowd on his side.

Irish Independent

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