THIS week James Sugrue becomes the first Cork golfer to play in the Masters Tournament.
The Mallow man has had to wait a bit longer for his start in the most famous tournament in the world, but his date with Magnolia Drive finally arrived.
He travelled to Georgia before the weekend and on Saturday he posted a video of the famous drive up the lane to the clubhouse.
That sparked a huge response from friends all over the country as every golfers dream became a reality for the 23 year old.
It’s a huge opportunity for the Corkman, while many Irish professionals have competed in Augusta National, he’s just the sixth Irish amateur to tee it up at the showpiece major.
Sugrue has spent the past five weeks practicing as best he could.
His position on the GUI Senior Mens Panel meant that he was permitted to practice once the second lockdown came, so he combined some work at Mallow Driving Range with some work in the Academy at Adare Manor where he was been practicing since the summer.
“I’ve been doing a fair bit of practice in Adare Manor, that’s where I’ve mainly been going,” said James.
“The facilities there are unbelievable, the best in the country. The chipping green is great, you wouldn't get anything else like it anywhere else in the country in terms of slopes and undulations.
"It’s just what it will be like in Augusta, and they were running just as fast as well. I’ve been very lucky to get access to the practice areas.
"If you’re preparing for the Masters, this is the only place in Ireland to do it.”
It’s a huge relief for Sugrue that the event is finally here.
With the original April date cancelled during the first phase of Covid-19, there was no guarantee that the 2020 would take place. At the time back in late March, Sugrue’s main emotion was one of relief, saying that the word postponed was the most important word on the letter that came from the tournament organising committee.
Although Sugrue didn’t have the rescheduled date at the time, he was happy that he would get a trip to Augusta.
A cancellation of the 2020 event would most likely have meant that Sugrue would have missed out, as the 2020 Amateur winner would probably get an invite to the 2021 staging.
Sugrue travelled to the US last Friday.
Covid tests were completed in Ireland before he travelled, and again when he arrived at the tournament venue in Augusta.
From that point when the test came back negative he was in the tour bubble, with strict limitations on where he can travel and who he can meet.
As well as having no patrons, there is also a strict reduction on the number of support people around the tournament.
With no patrons passes and travel visas in short supply it means that Sugrue has a much reduced travelling party this week.
His coach Michael Collins is the only person to travel with him due to the covid related travel restrictions.
Initially up to 50 people had planned to travel to Georgia, with many pulling in favours to secure tickets for the unique event.
James’s parents Michael and Margaret, his sister and bother and his girlfriend Christina had all planned to travel but like everyone else they will have to watch the event on TV.
One of the many people to be missing out on the trip to Augusta is Margaret Sugrue, James mum.
While obviously disappointed Margaret, is happy that the event is finally going ahead.
“I’m just delighted that he’s out there and ready to play, there were times this year when we wondered if he’d get to play any golf at all.
"Of course we’re very disappointed not the be out there with him, and it’s also very disappointing for all of his friends and the Mallow members who had planned to travel to the Masters.
"It’s great to get so many messages wishing him well and we’ll all be watching his progress on television.”
Sugrue is also without his friend Conor Dowling on the bag for the week.
Dowling caddied for James at several important amateur events as well as the two majors he has competed in.
This week James has a professional tour caddie on the bag. Jack Fulghum is an Augusta native has caddied on tour and his local experience around the course should help.
This is the last major that Sugrue will play in following his Amateur Championship win in 2019. He played in the 2019 British Open in Royal Portrush along with the 2020 US Open in New York in September.
Although he missed the cut in the US Open in September, Sugrue bounced back by making the cut in the Irish Open a week later.
That was Sugrue’s first time to play all four rounds in a professional tournament so hopes are high that his golf this week will be good enough to make the cut.
With just six amateurs in the field, a good performance could see Sugrue in the Butler Cabin on Sunday afternoon to win the silver cup.
After this week Sugrue will have the freedom to finally turn professional. Whether that happens before or after Christmas will depend on access to tournaments.
Getting a foothold on the Challenge Tour is key for Sugrue and a good showing this week will certainly turn the eyes of potential sponsors and agents.