James Sugrue savoured success on home soil to win The 124th Amateur Championship at Portmarnock.
The Irishman thrilled around 3,000 spectators at the renowned links near Dublin to defeat Scotland’s Euan Walker in an exciting 36-hole final. Sugrue was five up after nine holes but was forced to survive Walker’s sterling comeback to all square before clinching a one-hole win on the final green.
Played in glorious weather, Sugrue’s fast start and sharp short game skills proved key as the Mallow member became the first Irish player to win the famous title since Alan Dunbar in 2012.
By virtue of his triumph, the 22-year-old gained exemptions into The 148th Open at Royal Portrush next month, the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Ranked 231st on the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Sugrue was never behind against Walker as he came out on top of the 288-player international field who assembled at Portmarnock for only the club’s second ever staging of the championship.
“It is hard to believe really,” said Sugrue. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. Just to think about this win is unbelievable. Everything that comes with the win and all the crowds that were out there, it’s incredible. I’m just kind of happy I did it for the crowds, really, as I didn’t want all those people who came out to support me to see me end up losing. It’s more relief than anything else really to get over the line, especially after being three up going into the afternoon session. I’m just delighted to do it.”
Buoyed by the home crowds, Sugrue made a superb start in the sunshine against his fellow Walker Cup squad member. A birdie at the 2nd was sandwiched between two bogeys from Walker, 23, as the Irishman won the first three holes.
After Walker three-putted the short 7th Sugrue moved four ahead and arrowed his approach to a foot at the 9th to extend his lead to five after playing the front nine in three under par. The Scot’s birdie at the 10th saw him win his first hole of the day before the reigning African Amateur champion further reduced the deficit to three with another birdie at the par-5 13th.
The Kilmarnock (Barassie) player, ranked 71st in the world, remained three down after the morning session, but after Sugrue went four up at the 20th the Scot launched his fightback after winning the next two holes.
Sugrue, who has enjoyed five top-20 finishes this year, claimed the 24th but his advantage was cut to just one hole after Walker’s birdie at the 26th. The Irishman responded with a birdie at the 28th to go two ahead again, but the battling Scot refused to go away. He won the 31st with a birdie and then squared the contest at the 33rd after Sugrue’s bogey. However, willed on by the home fans, Sugrue won the 35th with a par after Walker found trouble off the tee and sealed victory at the last when his opponent again pushed his tee shot right and failed with two putts from the back of the green.
“I was very worried when it went back to all square, very worried,” added Sugrue. “Euan is just that type of player where he doesn’t really hit bad shots. He has got a beautiful swing and very rarely hits bad shots. I wasn’t expecting to be given holes. Sometimes you can keep plodding away against other players and they will slip up eventually, but Euan not so much. I had to create opportunities myself and thankfully it worked.”
On playing in The 148th Open at Royal Portrush, Sugrue said, “I can’t wait. It’s unreal. I’m really looking forward to it. I love Royal Portrush, it’s probably one of my favourite links courses, second favourite to Portmarnock. With the other major championship opportunities, it’s incredible to think about it and I’m really looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Reflecting on just coming up short but enjoying a great week, Walker said, “I was pretty nervous this morning, I don’t think there is anybody in my position that wouldn’t be nervous. I’ve never played on such a big stage before. It was a bit tough to hold the club first thing this morning but I got over it eventually.
“James is such a good player and is playing so well at the moment. I couldn’t give him the first three holes and expect an easy comeback from there, even though it was 36 holes. I did play much better the back nine of the first round and then into the second round. It wasn’t the volume of the people that was a challenge, it was the match itself as James is playing so well.
“To get it back to all square I had a chance going down the last three holes but I wasn’t very good off the tee on 17 and 18, driving off to the right.
“My coach, George Boswell, came over to support me and some friends from Troon which was great, I really appreciate that. I had loads of messages from people last night, like my friend (European Tour player) Robert MacIntyre, which was really nice. It was a great week and I’m absolutely gutted to lose.”
Sugrue is the eighth Irish winner of The Amateur and joins a list of past champions that include major winners José María Olazábal, Sergio Garcia and, more recently, Matteo Manassero and Romain Langasque.
The 125th Amateur Championship will be played at Royal Birkdale and West Lancashire in England from 15 – 20 June 2020.