James Sugrue will bid for a home victory when he faces Scotland’s Euan Walker in tomorrow’s final of The 124th Amateur Championship at Portmarnock.
Sugrue, 22, delighted the large Irish crowds watching the semi-final over the renowned links near Dublin by knocking out the top-ranked player in the field, David Micheluzzi from Australia, to seal his place in the 36-hole showdown.
Walker, 23, was equally impressive in the last four, defeating Englishman Benjamin Jones, as the finalists set up the biggest day of their amateur careers.
The winner secures exemptions into The Open at Royal Portrush next month, the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Sugrue, who is 231st on the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, is bidding to become the first Irish winner since Alan Dunbar in 2012, while Walker is seeking to emulate the last Scottish victor, Bradley Neil, who won at Royal Portrush in 2014.
Mallow member Sugrue exchanged early holes with Micheluzzi, before he went back in front at the 8th and never let his lead slip. The Australian failed to get up and down for par at both the 10th and the 11th to hand the Irishman a three-hole lead. Sugrue conceded the 13th after a poor tee shot but he kept his nerve to seal a 3&1 win after Micheluzzi twice found trouble.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Sugrue. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. To think if I win tomorrow I’ll be playing in major championships like The Open is incredible. I’m really, really delighted. I know I have 36 holes tomorrow but it’s hard not to think about things when you have a massive, massive prize at the end. But I’m going to try and keep my cool and play it hole by hole tomorrow.
“It wasn’t easy in front of the crowds as you do feel the expectation but I putted really well today. It was a good match against David, he is a class player and has a bright future ahead of him. Being three down after four to play in the last-32 against Christoffer Palsson, it’s brilliant to now be in the final. I wouldn’t like to say David gave me a couple of holes but he had a couple of bogeys that helped me.
“The crowds were unreal. I’ve never played golf in crowds like that, I’ve seen crowds like that at a gaelic football match. It was amazing. Hopefully it’s the same again tomorrow and I come out on top.”
Walker’s birdie at the par-5 6th gave him an early advantage in his semi-final with Jones, but a run of three bogeys in a row from the Kilmarnock (Barassie) player gave Jones the lead after 10 holes. However, Walker, ranked 71st in the world, saw his eagle putt conceded on the 13th and pushed on to win the 16th before sealing a 2&1 success.
“I’ve been working hard for so long, so to achieve this and to finally get to this stage in such a big event is absolutely amazing,” said Walker.
“It was tough to play against Sandy as we are obviously good friends. I think we both played well this morning and it was a shame for either of us to lose. I actually think he got very unfortunate at the first extra hole, which I didn’t realise at the time. He was in a divot and that caused him difficulty with his approach.
“It could have gone either way again this afternoon against Ben. The quality of the golf was not as good but I think that was mainly because of the conditions as it was much windier this afternoon. It was back and forth and I felt on 13 that I finally got the edge.
“I’m just going to have to try and handle the home crowds tomorrow. I’ve never been in this situation before when everyone is going to be rooting against me, although I’m not quite sure if that will be true. I’ll just need to focus on my mental outlook and stay strong. It’s amazing to have major championships on the line. A win tomorrow would top my career.”
Earlier in the quarter-finals, Micheluzzi came through on the final green against 19-year-old Cameron Sisk from the United States of America. Sisk held a slender one-hole lead after eight holes but Micheluzzi fought back, arrowing his approach to six feet at the last for a winning birdie.
It is only the second time The Amateur Championship has been hosted at Portmarnock, following the previous staging in 1949, and Sugrue again delighted the vast crowds in his quarter-final with Koen Kouwenaar from the Netherlands. In a tight match, Sugrue saved par from the fairway bunker on the 17th and then rolled in a 12 feet putt on the 18th to keep the match going. He then secured a par at the first extra hole to seal his win.
Jones enjoyed a more comfortable match to end the hopes of another Irishman, Ronan Mullarney, emerging victorious 3&1. Walker was forced to go to extra time in his all-Scottish quarter-final against Sandy Scott before he prevailed at the 19th.
The 36-hole final takes place from 8.30am tomorrow, as Sugrue and Walker seek to emulate last year’s champion, Jovan Rebula from South Africa. Other past champions include major winners José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia, the current Great Britain and Ireland men’s team captain Craig Watson and, more recently, Matteo Manassero and Romain Langasque.
Entry is free of charge for all spectators at Portmarnock, while live scoring, news and video can be followed on The R&A’s website and social media platforms.