Ireland international James Sugrue (Mallow) etched his name among the golfing greats when winning The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock in June.
On home soil, bearing the weight of expectation, 22–year old Sugrue went all the way. His success, in front of family, friends and hundreds of eager home fans, triggered emotional celebrations on the 18th green. Swamped by supporters, Sugrue stood serene. At a career high point, his eyes remained clear.
“I enjoyed it,” he said plainly afterwards. “I actually liked the 36–hole final because it’s kind of old school. And you know if you’re playing a 36–hole final, you’re doing something right.”
His calm, unfussy demeanour is as endearing as it is impenetrable. For most of the final, he led with ease, five up at the first turn and three ahead at halfway. Even as his lead disintegrated over the second 18, Sugrue was resolute.
“I gave it absolutely everything I had to get back in it and I just wasn’t strong enough over the last few holes,” Euan Walker, his opponent, conceded. “He’s a really strong player and he’s a lovely guy too. He hits the ball so consistently and he hardly ever gave me anything.”
Walker had drawn level with a winning par on the 33rd hole of the final. On the penultimate hole, Sugrue responded. A drive down the left side put him in position and from there he found the centre of the green. Walker floundered and made bogey. Sugrue, nerveless, holed a four footer to retake the lead.
“The only time I got nervous was on the last green,” Sugrue revealed. “That’s when I realised I have two putts to win this.”
Back in front, Sugrue went through the green with his approach to the last but Walker followed him over the back. When Walker’s third came back to his feet, Sugrue could afford to pitch past the flag.
Time stood still as his par putt rolled towards the hole. The fans yelled approval, willing it into the hole. The putt barely missed, not that it mattered. Walker removed his cap and then offered his hand to the champion in green.
While Sugrue received hugs and kisses, his caddy and close friend, Conor Dowling, considered the moment.
“I think I was more nervous than he was,” said Dowling, 28. “James caddied for me when he was about 13 or 14 when we were in an All–Ireland Schools Final. There was a bit of promise in him at that stage but then come two years later he was twice the player I was. I was on his bag then.”
Aged 15, Sugrue’s talent first became apparent in 2012 when he was capped for Ireland at the Boys Home Internationals. The Mallow teenager won the Connacht Boys crown that season. He played for the Ireland Boys three years running and added the Munster Youths title in 2014.
Success at the South of Ireland in 2017 confirmed Sugrue’s ability to win at the top level in Ireland. Last year, he progressed to the Ireland Senior team, earning his first cap at the Home Internationals.
This season, Sugrue has featured prominently in tournaments on a regular basis. He began the year with a top–20 at the South African Amateur and a top–10 at the South African Stroke Play. There were further top–20s at the Lytham Trophy and the Brabazon. Selected for the European Amateur Team Championship in July, he picked up two wins as Ireland finished fifth.
Victory at The Amateur gained him a place at The Open. A monumental week at Royal Portrush ended in disappointment for Mallow’s finest as he missed the cut by one shot.
Contesting his first US Amateur in August, Sugrue qualified smartly at Pinehurst with rounds of 70 and 73. Confirmation of his Walker Cup place soon followed, completing an incredible season for the Cork star.