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James Sugrue braces himself for a baptism of fire at US Open

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James Sugrue. Photo: Sportsfile

James Sugrue. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

James Sugrue. Photo: Sportsfile

Mallow's James Sugrue wasn't even born for the Massacre of Winged Foot in 1974 and he was just nine when Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Pádraig Harrington were left wondering what might have been as Geoff Ogilvy snatched the 2006 US Open.

But none of that matters now to the 2019 Amateur champion (23), who needed only two minutes on the hallowed grounds on Sunday to discover why Winged Foot has such a feared reputation and why this year's test is likely to be remembered as one of the toughest in years.

The par-70 West Course will be set up at a forbidding 7,477 yards and following Gil Hanse's 2018 renovation of AW Tillinghast's 1923 design, the winning score is expected to be over par.

"I was first out when the course opened at eight o'clock and I played by myself and, yeah, it is very, very tough," said world amateur No 10 Sugrue, who is joined in New York by his caddie Conor Dowling and coach Michael Collins.

"It's long, it's tight, the rough is extremely thick and high. You can be two yards off the fairway and struggle to find your ball."

Sugrue had hoped to be making his final appearance as an amateur this week before turning professional but with the Masters postponed until November, he will wait until next year.

Having played just four events this year with his US Open preparations consisting of appearances in the Mallow and Mullingar Scratch Cups, it would be unfair to heap any expectations on his shoulders.

"I am looking forward to it. It is tough but it is going to be tough for everyone, I suppose," he said. "You just really have to hit the fairways, that's the main thing. I don't think you are going to have a good score out there if you are not on the fairway on every hole.

"There are so many holes that stand out but the finish really gets your attention. The 16th is a 498-yard par four and the 17th is 504 yards and I hit driver and rescue into the two of then.

"Then the 18th is a driver and a five-iron for me. So every hole is tough. There are no weak holes, no poor holes. It's just a really strong golf course and a great test."

Sugrue is hoping to play nine holes with Shane Lowry today and while he is understandably bracing himself for what promises to be a baptism of fire, he will be trying to smile on Thursday

"To be honest, I am just really excited to get going," he said. "I want to enjoy myself most importantly and when I enjoy myself I play my best golf. I know that's very clichéd, but it's true."

Winners

Irish golf will have four men in the field with Sugrue joined by Lowry and former US Open winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who finished tied 48th on 17-over in 2006.

When Hale Irwin won with a seven-over total in 1974, the rough was closer to a foot long than the three to five inches the players will face this week.

"I remember how happy the members were at the devastation," recalled golf writer Tom Callahan. "They were thrilled that seven-over ended up winning."

Harrington bogeyed the last three holes to finish two shots behind Geoff Ogilvy on seven-over in 2006 as Mickelson and Montgomerie both finished with double-bogey sixes to tie for second with Jim Furyk behind Australia's Ogilvy.

"When you let mistakes come in, they tend to come in droves on this golf course," Harrington said of the Major performance that gave him the belief that he had the game to win one.

Mickelson struggled with his driver in the Safeway Open in California where he was told that a punter had wagered $45,000 at 75/1 to win the US Open and complete the career grand slam. "Hoping for both of us I have a three-shot lead on 18 tee," the left-hander quipped on social media.

The USGA's Sandy Tatum famously defended his 1974 US Open set up with the immortal line: "We're not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We're simply trying to identify who they are."

Whatever happens, one thing is clear, there will be few joking on Twitter come Sunday.

"There will be whining," NBC's David Feherty said. "There always is when you got a golf course that's so penal off the tee."

As Lowry said in the build-up: "It excites me a little bit to be able to see what it's like, but obviously it won't excite you too much if you don't have your A-game with you."

Irish Independent