JAMES Sugrue’s golf season will hit a new level this week when he tees it up at the US Open in New Jersey on Thursday.
The famous Winged Foot course has hosted six major championships before, but this week is the first time that a man from Mallow will compete in the field. The eyes of the golfing world will focus on the famous West Course when the world’s top golfers assemble for the first major of 2020.
Sugrue earned his place in the field thanks to his win at the Amateur Championship last year, and this is the second of three majors that he has been invited to compete in.
Although Sugrue has been limited to playing locally since the reopening in May, he has called on a friend for some inside knowledge on the Winged Foot course.
“I know a member up there who I have played golf with before,” explained Sugrue, “and he’s been sending me on videos and some details on the course.
“It looks very tough, a typical US Open course as you’d expect. It does look tricky but it’s the same for everyone.
“That could play into my hands maybe from playing in all of the Irish championships in 30 miles an hour winds on tough links courses. The season has been a bit of a disaster for me and for everyone else in terms of everything being cancelled but I can’t wait to finally get going in one of the two majors that I have left.”
While there wasn’t much in the way of championship and tournament golf in the past five months, Sugrue was fortunate enough to be invited to use the practice facilities in Adare Manor over the summer.
The academy facilities cover almost 90,000 square-metres and the turf on the range is the same level as that on the fairways. With Titleist Pro-V1’s as the range balls, it mimics tournament conditions in every way. It was the practice chipping greens that impressed Sugrue the most though.
And while you mightn’t think there’s a similarity between the course in Adare and Winged Foot, Sugrue thinks it was time well spent.
“I’ve been doing a fair bit of practice in Adare Manor, that’s where I’ve mainly been going. 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 Winged foot, and they were running just as fast as well. I’ve been very lucky to get access to the practice areas.”
Alongside Sugrue is his friend Conor Dowling who has caddied for him at all of the big tournaments. Dowling first picked up the bag for the British Open qualifier in 2018 and the Mallow duo have been together for most of the big events since. Dowling is a one-handicapper and the pair have been friends since they both started as juniors in Mallow Golf Club.
The duo were joined by PGA Professional Michael Collins who has coached Sugrue since he was a beginner. It’s just a team of three for the week, Covid-restrictions mean that family and friends are missing out on the opportunity to support the amateur star.
One person who is missing out is Margaret Sugrue, James' mum. While obviously disappointed Margaret, who works for the GUI, was happy that the event is 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.
“It was great to get so many messages wishing him well and we’ll all be watching his progress on television.”
While the well-wishers will be watching from home, Sugrue himself has a clear objective. After missing the cut in the Open Championship by one shot in strange circumstances, James is set on making the most of this opportunity and playing all four days of the US Open.