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​​​​​​​​​Sensational Sugrue wins The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock

​Ireland international James Sugrue (Mallow) wins The 124th Amateur Championship by one hole after thrilling final against Scotland's Euan Walker

  • 24 June 2019

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Ireland international James Sugrue (Mallow) has won The Amateur Championship at Portmarnock following a thrilling one hole victory over Scotland's Euan Walker.

Sugrue, 22, held a five-hole lead midway through the morning round of this titanic 36 hole tussle but Walker fought back and squared the match with three holes to play.

An incredible contest hinged on the penultimate hole, where Sugrue's par clinched a vital win. Both players went over the back of the 18th green but Walker's need was greatest at that stage. When the Scot failed to get his third shot on the green, Sugrue could afford to play safe. He pitched past the hole, ensuring bogey at worst and that proved sufficient to take the championship.

"It's really hard to put into words," said Sugrue, describing his win. "It's so hard to believe that I'll be going to The Open and The Masters. There's 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."

Apart from the prestige of winning The Amateur Championship -- one of the biggest tournaments in the world -- Sugrue gained a place in the field for next month's Open at Royal Portrush. Next year, he can plan for The Masters and the US Open too.

Portmarnock, which has captivated and confounded the players in equal measure this week, proved the perfect stage for Sugrue in match play. A combination of shot making, sublime putting and sheer resilience propelled the Cork man to the biggest success of his career.

"It wasn't looking too great when I shot five over in the first round out here," he reflected during his acceptance speech.

That opening round of 77 could have derailed his title bid but a closing birdie to record 70 in round two, at The Island, secured his place in the knockout stages.

In the last 32, Sugrue had to go the distance to beat Sweden's Christoffer Palsson. A birdie was required at the 18th to survive the quarter finals -- where Sugrue prevailed against Koen Koewenaar of the Netherlands at the first extra hole.

And after taking out world number seven David Micheluzzi in the semis, Sugrue faced into the biggest match of his career.

"It was my first 36 hole final so I wasn't really sure what to expect," said Sugrue. "I played it as: play 18 holes and then we'll go out all square in the afternoon and see what happens. I enjoyed it, it was really good. 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."

From the start, Sugrue dominated against Euan Walker. He won three holes in a row and turned five up having played the front nine in three under par. Although Walker reduced the margin before lunch, Sugrue was still in command, three up after 18.

Walker's expected fightback did not take long to materialise when the players returned to​​ the course. Back to back birdies on seven and eight reduced Sugrue's lead to one hole. Blow for blow and shot by shot, the final delivered exceptional golf and Sugrue was next to strike, making birdie at 10, the 28th hole of the final.

The Scot refused to bend on the back nine. Eventually he drew level with a winning par on the 15th. Could Sugrue respond? After 16 was halved in birdie, Sugrue played his hand. A drive down the left side put him in position and from there he found the centre of the green. Walker picked a bad time to flounder and when he bogeyed​, Sugrue holed a nerve jangling four footer to retake the lead.

Back in front, Sugrue went through the green with his approach to the last but Walker followed him over the back. And when Walker's third came back to his feet, Sugrue could afford to pitch past the flag​.

"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."

For a moment, time stood still as his par putt rolled towards the hole. The home fans roared their approval, willing it into the hole. The putt just missed, not that it ​mattered. Walker removed his cap and then offered his hand to the champion in green.

"I gave it absolutely everything I had to get back in it and I just wasn't strong enough over the last few holes," Walker graciously 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 today. All credit to him."

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."

Together, they formed a formidable partnership this week. Senior Cup teammates in Mallow, it was Dowling who suggested that the club forfeit their scheduled match against Castlemartyr on Saturday morning to support Sugrue at Portmarnock instead.

"I said to them that this might never happen to a Mallow golfer again," Dowling explained. "We got good vibes back off people. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Sugrue did not disappoint the Mallow faithful, delivering the performance of his career for the win of a lifetime.

*The GUI's High Performance programme is supported by Sport Ireland and Sport NI.​

**You can watch highlights of this year's championship on Sky Sports Golf this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.