The whirlwind continues for James Sugrue as the newly-minted amateur champion starts to reap the rewards of his Portmarnock triumph with a major debut on home soil at the 148th Open.
The 22-year-old from Mallow has seen his world turned upside down since his extraordinary success last month, celebrations coming attached not just with greater obligations but the promise of golden tickets into this week’s Open at Royal Portrush, the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, and next year’s Masters and US Open.
First things first though, the Corkman has a locker in Champions’ Corner next to Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, offers of practice rounds with Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry and a 6:35am appointment on Thursday morning on the first tee with 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke and PGA Tour star Charley Hoffman, the men drawn to get the year’s final major underway.
“I’m really looking forward to it, especially after finding out I’m playing with Darren as well in the first group, it’s just a dream come true,” Sugrue said yesterday. “I’ve watched the Open my whole life and just to get a chance to play in it is unbelievable.
“It is cool just to be in the locker room, find this little corner, the champions corner and Tiger’s locker is behind mine and Ernie Els’ is next to me. It is surreal. You’re on the range and DJ is on the other side of the range and Marc Leishman is next to me. It’s pretty cool.”
While little fazes Sugrue, who arrived in Portrush on Sunday afternoon straight from representing Ireland in the European Amateur Championships in Sweden, he is taking baby steps in terms of expectations for the week ahead.
Hopefully to make the cut anyway. That’s the first goal and kind of go from there. I don’t have any number in my head to be top 20 or top 30. I just want to make the cut first of all and most importantly, I am just going to try and enjoy myself and see where it takes me.
As many times as Sugrue has played Portrush in the past, this week’s Open set-up will be different gravy.
“It’s definitely playing a little bit longer. There’s a few tee boxes that I didn’t even know they were there before. Other than that, the grandstands and stands here, there and everywhere are a bit different, they change the whole off the tee and into greens and stuff but I’m just trying to, like I’ve played here numerous times so I’m just trying to block all that out, all those stands and people and just try and play decent golf.”
That, he added, was: “Definitely not an easy thing to do, especially when there’s people moving and shadows and things like that. Even out there today there were quite a few people out there. It’s not anything like what will be out there Thursday and Friday. But it is a bit handy as well for lines and things like that. There are cameras there that are good lines, or right edge of the stand and things like that. So it has its benefits as well. I am going to try and block out all those people and stands as best I can.”
He will also have plenty of support this week for Sugrue is in the rare position of making his Open debut on Irish soil, even if it is at opposite ends of the island from Co Cork.
“Yeah. I think there are a lot of (Mallow GC) members and friends coming up so I am expecting a big crowd and I am sure Darren will draw a fairly big crowd as well.”
Sugrue does admit to nerves but only occasionally.
“I was pretty nervous in Portmarnock at times. I was actually quite nervous hitting my first tee shot today. The grandstands come right around you, there wasn’t even that many people, so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like on Thursday.
“I played with Darren in Portmarnock for the champions weekend, if you win a Boy’s, (you) played nine holes with him. Unbelievable, I’ve never seen anyone to hit the driver off the deck like he does. You just tell him what shot to hit and he hits it. He’s one of the best ball strikers out there and I can’t wait to play with him.
“Obviously I am not going to enjoy setting the alarm for four o’clock in the morning, but I am going to enjoy being out there, the first out there, first on greens, first on the range, everything is going to be pure. It’s a benefit to be out first.
“Darren is pretty laid back and I hopefully won’t be too intimidated. Hopefully we can sort of feed off each other and play some decent golf.”
As for that nerve-jangling first tee shot in practice yesterday?
“Aww, miles right,” he admitted. “And you do not want to hit it right on one. The rough is up to your knees. I didn’t even hack it out because I was in the physio this morning so I said I’d better, just to be sure, not hack it out on the very first hole.
“In Sweden I just kind of got my lower back a little bit tight and I was at the physio this morning. I actually got a bite in Sweden and the doctor was there and had a look at it.
“He said it’s infected and it’s actually very sore, to be honest on my right calf. It’s inflamed and it’s probably about four inches in radius and it’s expanding out, so I’m on two sets of antibiotics and hopefully it’ll be okay by Thursday.”
He will also hope to hit that first competitive tee shot straight down the middle.
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”