JAMES SUGRUE finally left the amateur golf ranks last week.
First out of the block to support him were Kearys of Mallow who provided the golfer with a new Hyundai Tucson.
His appointment as brand ambassador for the local business was his first commercial deal, and hopefully many more will follow as the 24 year old sets out to earn a living in the world of tour golf.
Sugrue confirmed that he had signed with Swedish management firm Sportyard, and while his first appearance on tour is a few weeks away, he was delighted to get on board with Kearys.
“I am delighted to become Brand Ambassador for Kearys Hyundai Mallow and very much look forward to driving the all-new Hyundai Tucson.
"As well as its exceptional design, there’s plenty of room for the clubs in the boot,” said an excited Sugrue.
As an amateur Sugrue was prevented from any sponsorship or endorsement deals, but once he made the announcement, Kearys were quick off the mark to support their local hero.
“We are very proud of James Sugrue and his golfing achievements to date here in Mallow and are delighted to announce our association with him," said Finbarr Noonan, Sales Manager, Kearys Hyundai Mallow.
“On behalf of all the team at Kearys Hyundai Mallow and throughout the group, we hope that James enjoys comfortable and safe driving with the all-new Hyundai Tucson and we wish him all the best on his professional golfing journey.”
While the European Tour is up and running, the 2021 Challenge Tour won’t start until late April with a three-week swing in South Africa.
So for Sugrue, it’s back to basics, and as an elite golfer, he can avail of his local range.
And in times like these, it’s an option that most amateur golfers would love to have.
“I’m practicing away every morning, myself and Michael Collins head over to Mallow Driving Range thanks to Don O’Connor.
"The weather hasn’t been great and I’m hitting a couple of hundred balls every day. In fairness to Don, he has to go out and pick them so it’s great to have that facility available to me.”
January and February are always tough months for elite golfers in Ireland, and with courses closed for March, it’ll be a longer winter than normal.
Sugrue has a routine, and while it’s not tour-golf or warm-weather training, it is designed to keep him sharp while travel restrictions remain in place.
“Every morning it’s over to the range and them I do a bit of flexibility work at home after that. I have set up at home that allows me to do a bit of work, Michael got me a very good putting mat and I have a set up in the garage to hit a few balls.”
Previously Sugrue would have been looking forward to a trip to the South African Amateur, and most likely the Spanish Amateur as a member of the GUI national men's panel.
Aside from Covid, that support structure is now gone and Sugrue will have to manage as a sole trader as he navigates the professional game.
Assuming that his management company Sportyard come up with the good in terms of Challenge Tour and European Tour invites, James will have a great opportunity to earn and retain his own playing privileges.
He’ll be up against it though, there’s a high level of golf played on the Challenge Tour but that’s where the Mallow man sees himself.
He has applied for the 2021 Team Ireland support scheme.
The Sport Ireland backed programme sees a funding allocation granted to a number of new professional golfers in a bid to give them a footing in the tour structures.
As well as funding, Team Ireland can also secure starts in several events and this should help Sugrue as he embarks on his first season on tour.
Whenever his season starts, Sugrue will be hoping to hit the ground running, learning his trade as a pro, and bagging some prize money along the way.
Although, he doesn’t know when that start will come, he understands that there will be plenty of moving parts this season.
“I was hoping to start at the Oman Open this month if I was able to get an invitation to go back there, but I only heard late last week that the event has been postponed.
"The management company are taking a few days to see where the opportunities are, I’ve a zoom call at the end of this week so hopefully I’ll have a better idea after.
"The plan at the moment is to focus on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour if I can get a few invites.”
Sugrue leaves behind an impressive legacy as an amateur.
From his first win in the Connacht Boys aged just 15 to winning the Amateur Championship in Portmarnock in front of 4,000 supporters, Sugrue claimed a spot as one of Cork’s top amateurs of all time.
He leaves the amateur game ranked as number one in Europe, and number five in the world. He has proven his ability in over a decade of elite amateur golf, so there’s no reason why he can’t drive into the next level.