Friday 19 July 2019

Ireland's James Sugrue has qualified for the British Open in Portrush after winning 2019 Amateur Championship

James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, right, celebrates with his caddy Conor Dowling
James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, right, celebrates with his caddy Conor Dowling
James Sugrue in action

Brian Keogh

Mallow's James Sugrue followed in the footsteps of Cork great Jimmy Bruen when he became the eighth Irishman to win the Amateur Championship with a nail-biting one-hole win over Scot Euan Walker at Portmarnock.

He is now exempt for The Open at Portrush next month and next year's US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, he will receive a precious invitation to play in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National next year.

Five up after nine holes and three up after the morning round, the strapping 22-year old saw his huge lead gradually whittled away by the dogged 23-year old from Kilmarnock Barassie.

It was gone completely by the 33rd when he bogeyed the iconic par-three 15th in front of an excited crowd that had swelled to almost 3,000 by the time the 36-hole final was coming to a climax.

But he dug deep to etch his name alongside those of Bruen, Max McCready, Joe Carr, Garth McGimpsey, Michael Hoey, Brian McElhinney and Alan Dunbar on the famous old trophy, two putting from 60 feet for a nerveless half in birdie at the 16th before winning the 17th with a brilliant par-four after Walker made bogey following a drive into the right rough.

He had luck on his side at the 18th, when he hopped out of a fairway bunker onto short grass and Walker carved his tee shot 30 yards right.

James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, centre, is congratulated by supporters
James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, centre, is congratulated by supporters

But while the Mallow man (22) overshot the green, Walker too went long from light rough and then failed to get his risky third with a putter on the green.

The Scot's putt from fluffy rough almost crowned the ridge but didn't have enough pace to make the green and rolled back to him.

Sugrue faced a tricky chip but with Walker in trouble, he simply pitched 18 feet beyond the hole and after lagging his par putt 18 inches past, he was conceded the match by the dogged Walker and the crowd erupted to cheer a famous victory by a player whose only previous major win came in the 2017 South of Ireland final at Lahinch.

The win almost certainly guarantees Sugrue selection on the Walker Cup team for September's clash with the USA at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, where Rory McIlroy won The Open in 2014.

He was just three-up at lunch but it could have been a five up lead had he not lost the 18th hole to a bogey by making a double bogey six.

He got off to a flying start, taking driver on the first three holes as Walker took irons and began par-birdie-par to race into a three-hole lead.

James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, right, is congratulated by Euan Walker
James Sugrue of Mallow Golf Club, Co. Cork, right, is congratulated by Euan Walker

Walker then made a 10 footer for a half in birdie fours at the sixth but after three-putting the seventh to go four down — a true momentum hole after Sugrue had made a 7 footer before him — he watched Sugrue chip and putt for a half in par at the eighth, then stiff his approach to the ninth to find himself five behind at the turn.

The Scot did not look particularly perturbed and began to chip away at Sugrue's commanding lead, making an outrageous 50 footer from the swale left of the 10th green for a birdie that the Mallow man could not match.

Sugrue almost repaid him at the 12th, lipping out from 75 feet at the iconic par-three, but Walker matched his par from 10 feet.

He would win the 13th with a two-putt birdie from 18 feet after Sugrue had overshot the green and failed to get up and down.

But while Sugrue missed a chance to go four up again at the 14th and Walker made a 15 footer for a half, Sugrue went four up again at the 17th with a cast-iron par four.

At the 18th, it appeared that Sugrue would go in for lunch five-up after Walker was forced to hack out of rough on the right and then failed to make the green with his third after Sugrue had missed the green long right.

Walker pitched to six feet but Sugrue, after a free drop from the pathway, flubbed his chip into a hollow directly behind the pin and three-putted from there as Walker made a six footer for the win.

The afternoon round was one of high drama. Sugrue won the 20th from 12 feet to go four up, three-putted to lose the 21st and then lost the 22nd to Walker's 40 footer to see his lead reduced to 2 up.

He would win the 24th with a birdie four to go three up again but Walker would not go away and won the 25th with a birdie two and the 26th with a fine birdie three, eventually turning for home just one down.

Sugrue won the 28th with a superb birdie three from 12 feet to go 2 up again but he lost the par-five 13th to Walker's two-putt birdie.

A dramatic finish was on the cards when he failed to get up and down for par from the Valley of Sin left of the iconic 15th to be all square for the first time since the first hole of the day.

The final three holes were hugely exciting but it was the Mallow man who prevailed with his birdie-par-bogey finish enough to secure Ireland's 10th Amateur Championship win.

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