Saturday 24 August 2019

James relishing royal treatment

No alarm bells for laid back Sugrue as Open dream becomes a reality

No pressure: James Sugrue at Royal Portrush ahead of The Open. Photo: Fran Caffrey/
No pressure: James Sugrue at Royal Portrush ahead of The Open. Photo: Fran Caffrey/

Brian Keogh

Golf can be the most frustrating game in the world if you allow it to eat into your psyche and dominate your life.

It can become the be-all and end-all for the world's best professionals, some of whom find solace in some self- flagellation.

Characters like Matt Wallace and Tyrrell Hatton are a world removed from Mallow's James Sugrue, the Amateur champion, whose biggest worry heading to Royal Portrush for the Open this week is making sure he remembers to charge his phone.

Two years ago, the laid back Munster man cruised into the matchplay stages of the North of Ireland Amateur Open at the Dunluce links and got to bed early for his 7.20am first-round match with Belvoir Park's Marc Norton.

He set the alarm on his phone, plugged it in and drifted off into neverland only to wake up the next morning with a feeling of dread.

"I'd forgotten to flick on the switch on the wall," Sugrue recalled. "My phone died when I was asleep, and as soon as I started charging it, it rang, and it was an official saying to get down to the course straight away. If I made it inside the allotted five minutes, it might only be loss of hole.

"I was staying nearby and started running down the street to the course with my clubs on my back, heading straight for the second tee. But just as I got there, I was told I was over the five minutes, and so that was that. It was a long drive home to Mallow from Portrush then."

Sugrue is one of life's laidback characters - he loves his dogs, his hunting forays and his music - and he's fortunate that his parents, Margaret and Michael, take these things in their stride, despite their fleeting irritation over the expense incurred.

"They don't play golf, and if I don't play well, my mam will say, 'It doesn't matter. No one's dead. It's not the end of the world'," he said.

"As much as I hate losing and want to win every time and shoot 62 every time I tee it up, I know I am not going to. If I shoot 82, it is not a great day, but it could be a whole lot worse.

"The way I look at it, if I don't play well, it's not the end of the world. I will still go home, and my dogs will still be there. They don't know I am after shooting 85. Or 65. They will still be delighted to see me.

"If I have a bad day, I wouldn't be the type of person to dwell on it. I have seen fellas I know and play with and they get upset, and it doesn't end well."

The upshot of Sugrue's alarm clock failure was not armageddon at home but joyous celebration, albeit a few days later. After all, his father had a brush with cancer when he was six, and his siblings Edward and Michelle were 10 and 11 so missing a tee-time was quickly shrugged off as a minor hiccup and nothing to worry about. Nobody was dead but James still feared some kind of rebuke when he got home

He made the 300-mile journey home from Portrush with pal Conor Dowling, his caddie for his Amateur Championship win at Portmarnock, and after failing to do as ordered and avoid being delayed by one of the Orange marches, he turned to his pal and said: "I will have to do something next week to make up for this one."

He had the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch to redeem himself and did so in spectacular fashion, beating Conor O'Rourke 3&2 in the final to claim his maiden amateur "major" and join the likes of Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke on the list of champions.

"It was a bit of redemption!" he said with a chuckle.

He's blossomed as a player since then, earning a senior international call up last year. And while he still loves his dogs and hunting and drinking umpteen pints of milk every day, it would be a mistake to confuse his laidback attitude with lack of ambition.

"I want to make money playing golf," he said of his plans to try his hand at the professional game. "I have seen lads who have gone before me do well, and I know I am capable of it. So I will try to enjoy the journey and see where it takes me."

A huge Mallow contingent will make the pilgrimage north this week, but Sugrue, while keen to play well, feels no pressure to produce a stellar result.

"I have nothing to lose," he said. "I am there on merit, and I am going to just enjoy it, take it shot by shot, add them up, and hopefully I don't have too many.

That said, he knows that something special lies in store, including a week's supply of milk.

"I got an email from a woman at the R&A, and she said they have 60 litres waiting for me," he said. "That should do me for the week!"

"I saw the Claret Jug at Lahinch, and it is unreal," he added. "I'd find it hard to choose between the Masters and The Open but Champion Golfer Of The Year and all that craic, it gives me goosebumps just to say it. It's the real deal alright, is The Open."

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