Irish hero Sugrue triumphs in The Amateur Championship final at Portmarnock

Liam Kelly
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Amateur Champion 2019 James Sugrue (Photo: Pat Cashman)

The home victory that we hardly dared hope for at the start of the week became a stunning reality when James Sugrue, 22, from Mallow, County Cork, added his name to the annals of the venerable Amateur Championship today.

Sugrue, who twice during the match play stages flirted with elimination, showed immense character, courage, and plenty of skill to defeat Scotland’s Euan Walker by one hole in the 36-hole final at Portmarnock.

He now has to clear his calendar for July to take in The Open Championship at Royal Portrush, for which he qualifies with his new status as Amateur Champion.

Next year he can look forward to playing The Masters at Augusta and the US Open, should he remain amateur. In the meantime, Sugrue qualifies for the US Amateur Championship in August. He also gains a place on the Walker Cup team to face the USA next September at Hoylake.

What a vista this triumph opens for the former hurler who, at age 15, had to make a choice between a commitment to golf and setting his sights on making the grade at a high level of hurling.

Sugrue chose well, and his joy was unconfined among his family and friends as they raced to congratulate him once the victory was confirmed on the 18th green of the afternoon round.

As he cradled the massive trophy afterwards, Sugrue had to pinch himself to realise what he had achieved.

“It’s so hard to believe that I’ll be going to The Open, and then the Masters. There’re 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, really hard to put into words. I’m absolutely delighted. It was an unbelievable experience and the crowds were magnificent,” he said.

The Irish international and former South of Ireland champion was put to the pin of his collar to fend off Euan Walker, the pride of Kilmarnock (Barassie) and a Walker Cup squad member.

Sugrue knew he faced a formidable opponent. “Talking to people about Euan, they said he’s like a robot. He has a great swing and a great game, and if you’re waiting for him to make a mistake, you’ll be waiting a long time,” he said.

Great credit was due to the Scot. He found himself 3-down after the morning 18, and 4-down after the 20th, but fought back to all square after 15.

“When we were back to all square I kind of thought he was bit in the driving seat. Not that I threw it away, but I kept telling myself I hadn’t hit any bad shots. It was more about his good golf than my bad golf. That kind of settled me down a little bit and got me over the line,” said Sugrue.

They both birdied the par-5 16th, their 34th hole, and the Championship was up for grabs with two par-4s, the 17th and 18th to play.

Sugrue kept his nerve, and plotted his way to a solid par on 17, while Walker suffered from an errant drive and could do no better than bogey.

Down the 18th they went, with the crowds buzzing in anticipation, but also keeping fingers crossed there would be no need for extra holes. Walker again carved his drive way right, but the ball went so far that he had a decent lie close to the old practice ground

Sugrue’s ball finished in a tricky lie, just on top of a fairway bunker. After careful deliberation, he managed to make a solid contact. The ball hit the green but rolled on down to rest just short of the rough.

Walker’s second also put him through the green, so they both had a similar shot. The Scot opted to use his putter from the first cut of rough, and could hardly believe his eyes when he left it short, with the ball rolling back to him.

Seeing that, Sugrue wasn’t going to be short, but pitched to 15 feet, a tad too long for his supporters’ liking.

However, once Walker missed his par attempt the Mallow golfer rolled his ball close enough to the hole and that was enough to give Sugrue the match and the Championship.

Portmarnock Golf Club and its members did a tremendous job in hosting arguably the greatest Championship open to amateur golfers. The club staged The Amateur in 1949, the only previous time it came to the Republic, and it’s quite staggering that 70 years later, we have another Irish triumph at the famous Irish links.

Max McCready, of Dunmurry and Sunningdale GC, was the hero in 1949. James Sugrue now joins McCready, Jimmy Bruen (1946), Joe Carr (1953, ’58, and ’60); Garth McGimpsey (1985), Michael Hoey (2001), Brian McElhinney (2005) and Alan Dunbar (2012) as an Irish winner.

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