Tuesday 16 July 2019

The Mallow milk man delivers his dream of a Major spot

James Sugrue (Mallow) winner of the 2019 The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club today. Photo: Pat Cashman
James Sugrue (Mallow) winner of the 2019 The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club today. Photo: Pat Cashman

Brian Keogh

Mallow's James Sugrue is still pinching himself after seeing his dreams come true following his dramatic Amateur Championship victory at Portmarnock.

The 6'2" gentle giant beat Scotland's Euan Walker in front of a massive crowd estimated at close to 5,000 on Saturday to clinch starts in The Open at Royal Portrush next month and the Masters and US Open at Winged Foot next year.

"It's so hard to believe that I'll be going to The Open and The Masters," said Sugrue, who happily downed a pint of milk for the cameras in the press room afterwards - a nod to his lifelong habit of drinking as many as six pints of milk a day.

"There are lots of pros that play golf their whole life and don't get to play in a major.

"Now I get to play in three of them. It's hard to believe. It's really hard to put into words. Just absolutely delighted."

He admitted the massive rewards at stake gave him a restless night before the final, having clawed his way through qualifying with a shot to spare thanks to a birdie at The Island's 18th, and then overcoming adversity several times in the matchplay stages, where he saw off the Australian David Micheluzzi, the world number seven and title favourite, in the semi-finals.

"I couldn't sleep last night, so I had to listen to a podcast - it was Joe Rogan on hunting - and went to sleep listening to that," he said of those dreams of Portrush and Augusta National.

"It's a bit of cliché, but it is lying in bed when you would think of it. Thankfully I am going there now."

He became just the eighth Irishman to win the title, following in the footsteps of fellow Corkman Jimmy Bruen, who became the first Irish winner in 1946. And he was carried to victory by the crowd, packed with Mallow supporters.

"I'd love to know how many people were out there," said Sugrue, who was five up after the first nine holes of the 36-hole final but was brought to all square with just three holes to play before regaining the lead with a par at the 17th.

"It felt like millions," he said of the crowd. "I don't think you could have lost a ball out there today if you tried there were so many people around.

"The only time I got nervous was on the last green when I had those two putts to win. It's hard to put into words. It's unbelievable, surreal.

"I was hoping to have a good week like everyone else, but I wasn't expecting to win it, especially because I hadn't played Portmarnock since I played nine holes with Darren Clarke at one of those champions weekends when I was 15."

He had made tentative plans to try the professional ranks later this year, but those plans are now on hold.

"That won't be happening now," Sugrue said. "And I have no problem with that either. I can't wait to play those Majors." As for the drama of losing a huge lead, he said: "I kept telling myself; I didn't hit any bad shots. It was more his good golf than my bad golf. That settled me down a little bit and got me over the line."

He credited a new driver and three wood he picked up from "the lads from Titleist" as key to his brilliant play down Portmarnock's tough finishing stretch.

He faces a busy summer now with the European Team Championships, the US Amateur and a cast-iron Walker Cup appearance ahead.

Meanwhile, on the PGA Tour, Seamus Power failed to make a birdie and mixed three bogeys with a double bogey to close with a five-over 75 in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut.

The West Waterford star, who is set to return home for next month's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, tied for 66th on two-over par as Chez Reavie held off a final round charge by Keegan Bradley and Zack Sucher, carding a one-under 69 to win his second title by four shots on 17-under par.

On the European Tour, Andrea Pavan won his second European Tour title when he beat Matt Fitzpatrick in a play-off for the BMW International Open at Golfclub München Eichenried.

The Italian started the final day four strokes behind 54-hole leader Jordan Smith but carded a bogey-free six under par 66 to set a 15 under par that Fitzpatrick matched with a closing birdie for a 66. He parred the par-five 18th the first time around, but Fitzpatrick found a greenside bunker the second time, and after Pavan hit a 135-yard wedge to two feet, he couldn't get up and down to extend their tussle.

In Malaga, Eirik Tage Johansen claimed his maiden European Challenge Tour victory 18 years after making his debut.

He defeated Ugo Coussaud 2&1 in the final of the Andalucía - Costa del Sol Match Play 9.

The Norwegian hit a stunning approach shot from 227 yards to eight feet on the par-five eighth hole at Valle Romano Golf before rolling in the eagle putt to win his first event on the circuit following a closely-fought contest against Frenchman Coussaud.

Meanwhile, tour regulars Michael Hoey, Dermot McElroy and Paul McBride are among the players chasing just four places in the $7m Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in next weekend's 36-hole qualifier at Moyvalley.

There's a strong amateur presence with Naas' Robert Brazill, Balbriggan's Robbie Cannon, Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell, Castle's Robert Moran, Malone's Matthew McClean and Killiney's Eoin Leonard also entered.

Meanwhile, more than 1400 players will compete in 13 Regional qualifiers today for a spot in Final Qualifying for The Open at Royal Portrush.

Former world snooker champion Shaun Murphy and Royal Portrush professional Gary McNeill are in action at Co Louth.

Irish Independent

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