James Sugrue looked determined to make the most of his late Irish Open invite after posting a superb three-under par round of 67 in testing conditions on day one at Galgorm Castle.
Last year’s Amateur Champion arrived this week fresh off making his US Open debut with a missed cut at Winged Foot but looked much more at ease back closer to home, firing five birdies in-all to trail early pace-setters Jordan Smith and Dean Burmester by just two strokes in Northern Ireland.
“I feel a lot more comfortable this week,” said Sugrue. “Golf is a confidence game and if you don’t have confidence, you could be swinging it as well as anyone in the world but without confidence, you can forget it.”
There was no shortage of confidence on display on day one in Ballymena with the Cork man signing off in style with a birdie at the last to set a brilliant foundation ahead of a hopeful four days at the tournament. But what pleased him most about the performance?
“Definitely off the tee,” he said. “Last week I really struggled.
“I’ve always had a nice shot in my locker – an ‘eighty-percenter’ that goes pretty low and straight most of the time but that didn’t suit the course last week. Out here, you almost benefit from hitting it low, you can keep it below the trees and under the wind so I was very pleased with how I hit it off the tee.
“But I played lovely – I hit a lovely 6-iron into three or four feet on the sixth and kicked on from there. All-in-all, it was just a really solid, nice round of golf today.”
It all bodes well for a good week ahead then:
“I always say, if I just enjoy myself and not think too much into it, good golf usually follows close behind. I enjoyed it out there today. I played with two absolute gents… it was good to have Conor on the bag as well, felt really comfortable around him and it was just a great day.
“If I don’t play well tomorrow, it’s not the end of the world, no-one’s dead, I’ll still be able to go home to my family so I’m just going to try and relax and hopefully play well tomorrow.”
This week marks the Mallow man’s first appearance at his national open, an event he’s watched for the best part of a decade, honing his skills to hopefully one day compete on the same stage as his heroes.
“2010, Killarney was probably my earliest memory of the tournament,” he revealed.
“I went with my parents and I remember Matteo Manassero was the man on the scene then. I remember being very impressed watching him and also Marcel Siem giving me a ball – I’ve loved him ever since and always followed him at tournaments and checked up on how he’s doing.
“It was definitely the first ever event I was at. When the Irish Open was on, at home there’d always be a bit of a buzz around the golf club and even at my house. I’m delighted to be in the field this week and glad to get the invite.”
The news wasn’t so good for Open Champion Shane Lowry who carded eight bogeys in an opening five-over par round of 75.
Full scoring HERE