Mallow’s James Sugrue is the star attraction as the South of Ireland Championship gets underway at Lahinch Golf Club today.
The Amateur Champion, who missed out on the weekend cut and the Silver Medal at last week’s Open Championship at Portrush by a solitary stroke, returns to a familiar battleground on the County Clare links where Sugrue triumphed at the South in 2017.
Sugrue’s presence at the South evokes glory days at Lahinch when amateur legends such as JB Carr and Garth McGimpsey topped the bill. Those giants of the past did not achieve a South-Amateur double in the same season so Sugrue has a unique opportunity in 2019.
There’s so much to play for this week as the Bridgestone Order of Merit hots up with precious points at stake in the third last event of the season.
Portmarnock ace Conor Purcell leads the table ahead of the event. Purcell, Robert Brazill (Naas) and Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) are the leading trio heading to Lahinch and the top three players at the end of the Bridgestone series securing selection on the Ireland team for the Home Internationals in September (9-11).
With valuable Bridgestone points on offer, performances at the South could be key to making the team. This year’s championship also presents an opportunity to impress Ireland selectors at the venue for those matches in September.
Lahinch welcomes another strong field to their much loved links, including Ireland’s four Walker Cup panellists, who have been exempt into the match play stages. Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty, the title holder, is straight into the last-64 along with Purcell, Mark Power (Kilkenny) and Corkonian Sugrue.
Notably, the last three winners of the South will contest this year’s championship. Purcell, who made his major breakthrough at Lahinch in 2016, travels to Co Clare from Royal Liverpool. The Great Britain & Ireland squad met at Hoylake, venue for this year’s Walker Cup match, for a two-day practice session, 23 and 24 July.
Although the title has eluded him, Hermitage star Rowan Lester looks at home whenever he plays Lahinch. The leading qualifier in 2017, Lester has twice reached the final. He lost out to Purcell in 2016. Last year he went down in the decider, against Rafferty, at the second extra hole.
The South begins today, Wednesday and after 36-holes of stroke play qualifying, the top-59 progress. Match play action commences on Friday 27 July.
The South of Ireland is the eighth of 10 events in the Bridgestone Order of Merit. The AIG Irish Close at Ballybunion (3-8 August) is the penultimate tournament and the series concludes at the Mullingar Scratch Trophy (10-11 August).
Automatic selection for Ireland at the Home Internationals is the prize for the top-3 players.