Ireland international James Sugrue will fly to England on Saturday confident he is in the best possible shape to impress Walker Cup selectors and kick-start a special season amongst the game’s amateur elite.
The 22-year-old from Mallow, South of Ireland champion in 2017, was named on an extended Great Britain & Ireland panel of 26 last week that will gather at Royal Liverpool this weekend for its first get-together ahead of this September’s matches against the United States at the 2022 Open Championship venue.
There is a long way to go before that panel is streamlined for the bid to regain the trophy from the Americans after defeat in 2017 but having recovered from an inflamed rib cartilage condition known as costochondritis, Sugrue is ready to make his mark both this weekend and for the rest of the summer.
After Royal Liverpool, the Corkman will travel with his fellow Irish team-mates to contest next week’s Lytham Trophy on the Lancashire coast before returning home with high hopes to vie for this year’s Flogas Irish Amateur Open at Co Sligo.
He will be one of nine Walker Cup squad members, five of them Irish, making the trip to Rosses Point but first Sugrue must hit the ground running in England.
Just to make sure he was in optimum health, he opted to pull out of last weekend’s Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup, preferring not to jump straight back into competitive golf for the first time in three weeks having been forced to withdraw from the European Nations Championship at Sotogrande in Spain.
“I was playing a practice round and I got a slight, the only way I could explain it really was like a pain in my heart,” Sugrue told the Irish Examiner.
“I went to the physio and he couldn’t feel anything. It wasn’t sore to touch or anything so he sent me to the doctor who said I have something called costochondritis, it’s like your ribs attached to your sternum and the cartilage holding the rib to the sternum. Mine basically was inflamed and really tender, so I couldn’t play.”
Sugrue returned home to rest up, get the proper medication in the form of anti-inflammatories and recover from what was essentially a wear and tear condition rather than what he first feared in Sotogrande.
“The worst thing was I didn’t one shot and feel like, ‘oh, something happened there’, it was just sore and sorer every time I hit a shot.
I thought it was my heart for a while, that’s the only way I could explain it, just right there. So I was a bit nervous but thankfully it was nothing. I got an ECG, x-rays, and everything was all right.
“I’ve been playing pretty solid for the whole season and even the back end of last season so I can’t complain too much. Not being able to play in Sotogrande was very annoying but that was half out of my control. I’m looking forward to getting back.”
Sugrue took withdrawal from Ireland duty at Sotogrande badly but aside from his Walker Cup squad selection, credited national coach Neil Manchip with helping him put the injury firmly in perspective.
Manchip’s pep talk came during a phone call from Augusta, where he was working with Shane Lowry at the Masters and involved a story about the Offaly man when he was a 19-year-old amateur in 2006.
“When I had to come away from Sotogrande, I was raging, disgusted, and really upset and Neil messaged me from Augusta, where he was with Shane Lowry.
He told me a story about Shane playing the West of Ireland, shot 65 and was leading qualifier by miles and an interviewer asked him how he made eagle on 12. Shane said ‘I didn’t make eagle on 12’.
It said on his scorecard that he had made eagle on 12 but he’d made birdie, so he got DQ’d. Next week he was playing the Irish Amateur, shot a lovely round but forgot to sign his card, got DQ’d again. Two weeks in a row having led both times.
Neil was just like, ‘this isn’t the end of the world, this isn’t your fault, it’s not going to define your career, forget about it’’. After that phone call, I felt so much better and it was because he’d put things into perspective.
The chat with Manchip, described by Sugrue as a “brilliant” national coach, has helped the Mallow golfer look forward with relish for the coming weeks’ golf, starting with the Lytham Trophy.
“It’s the real big one I’m looking forward to, Royal Lytham & St Annes, an Open course, a very, very strong field, we’ll give her a rip and see what happens.”
And with the Irish Amateur this year returning to Rosses Point for the first time since 1950, when JB Carr was victorious, Sugrue has the chance to make amends for his Co Sligo disappointment at the West of Ireland Championship at the start of the month when he felt he was better than his tie for 11th finish.
“I played it a couple of weeks ago and I just felt like it owes me something. Every day, I made double or triple within the first six holes and I was like if I could just par these holes I’d be leading. I just can’t wait to get back there, to be honest with you. I feel like I’m due a very good score there.”