James Sugrue will draw on Winged Foot experience for Irish Open debut

Sugrue was treated to a US Open baptism of fire in New York last week
James Sugrue will draw on Winged Foot experience for Irish Open debut

ON HOME GROUND: James Sugrue and caddy Conor Dowling during a practice round ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, Co Antrim. Picture: Brendan Moran

When you have played a course as forbidding as Winged Foot within the past week, pretty much anywhere else would appear to be a walk in the park — but James Sugrue will not underestimate Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort when he makes his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open debut tomorrow.

Sugrue, one of three Irish amateurs in the field alongside Kilkenny’s Mark Power and Holywood’s Tom McKibbin when the national open finally gets underway after a change of date and venue due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was treated to a US Open baptism of fire in New York last week. By his own admission, the Mallow golfer paid the price for not bringing his best golf with him to Winged Foot as he took up the invitation that was his reward for winning the 2019 Amateur Championship at Portmarnock.

Galgorm in Co Antrim will not pose anything like the challenge Winged Foot did last week when the Irish international missed the halfway cut following rounds of 78 and 79. Yet having slept off his transatlantic trip from the United States throughout Monday, yesterday’s first experience of the par-70, 7,087-yard parkland course told Sugrue it may have some tricks up its sleeve regardless.

“Two completely different courses,” the 24-year-old told the Irish Examiner. “I’ve never played Galgorm before, it’s a quirky track. I only hit the driver once on the front nine, on the first hole. There’s a few driver holes on the back nine all right but it’s about getting in position off the tee. The rough is up as well, it’s juicy but not as juicy as last week thankfully but it’s still pretty hairy.

“The fairways are wider and the greens are a lot less undulating. They’re not flat but going from Winged Foot to here... they seem flat.”

The contrast also helped to let Sugrue put his US Open experience into some perspective as well as acknowledge the masterclass put on for the rest of last week’s field by champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose closing 67 gave the big-hitting American a six-stroke victory from fellow Californian Matt Wolff.

“The telly doesn’t do it justice how undulating the greens at Winged Foot are or how good Bryson played to produce that score on the last day, it was unbelievable. You can only admire him, to win at six under, by six and be the only player under par for the week, it was unreal to be fair to him.

“The experience for me was good, I just didn’t play my best at all and at the top level in the world, if you’re not at your best then you’re not at the races, especially with the driver. I didn’t hit the driver well at all and you can’t have a score out there if you’re not.”

It is not unreasonable to expect his Irish Open debut to be less exacting than last week’s US Open bow but that does not mean the excitement levels are any lower for an Irish golfer for whom his home tournament is steeped in memories of tournaments past.

“I was in Sweden for the European Team Championships the same week as Lahinch last year so this is my Irish Open debut. Hopefully it’s a good one.

“I can’t wait for it now to be honest. It’s so good to be able to play European Tour events on the island of Ireland and I just can’t wait.

“My first memory of an Irish Open was going down to Killarney with my parents, 2010 or 2011 and Matteo Manassero was the new man on the scene, bursting through as a young fella and I remember following him for a good bit. So I went to a few of them all right. First time playing one though.

“I feel like if I play well I should be able to shoot a decent score. Playing there today it was very windy and it started getting wet just as we were coming in but the place is in decent nick and I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

The Corkman, who still has a Masters debut to prepare for in November, is grateful for the opportunity to keep the competitive juices flowing this week having received an invitation from the European Tour late last week. He will tee off at 9:35am tomorrow in the company of former Irish Open winner Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and Englishman Laurie Canter.

“This is my last professional event before Augusta the way things are looking, there may be the Irish Close at Rosapenna in October but there’s lots of things that could change now with Covid and cases rising. It’s not great for golf. Going from Winged Foot to Galgorm, though, there’s clearly a step down in course difficulty because Winged Foot was extremely difficult, so it should help. I still have to hit good shots but if I hit good shots it’s scoreable enough.

“It’s good, delighted to be here and looking forward to Thursday. I’m not even thinking about the jet lag, to be honest.

“I suppose last week I was almost too early, like the Tuesday of last week I had all my practice rounds played so I don’t mind being here a little bit late.

“And I’ll get home eventually. Hopefully Sunday night or Monday, not Friday.”

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