James Sugrue may not be a professional yet but if he takes the same attitude into the paid ranks he took into his opening round at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open then he is set fair for a lucrative career.
The Irish international and 2019 Amateur champion from Mallow, Co Cork, will go into today’s second round as the leading Irishman in the field, the only home golfer to post an under-par first-day score, and he did it with a smile on his face.
A happy Sugrue is a successful Sugrue, it seems and it proved effective at Galgorm Castle yesterday as he shot a three-under-par 67 in chilly, blustery conditions to take a share of fifth place, two shots behind 18-hole joint-leaders Dean Burmester of South Africa and English duo Aaron Rai and Jordan Smith as the rescheduled 2020 Irish Open got underway in Co. Antrim, four months after it should have been held at Mount Juliet.
Tournament favourite Shane Lowry blamed only himself for a disappointing five-over-par 75 that leaves the Open champion with a battle to make the cut, but it was worth the wait for Sugrue, who said: “All I can do is, if I can enjoy myself and not think too much into it, good golf usually follows close behind. I enjoyed it out there today.
“I suppose I don’t really look into it too much. It’s only a game of golf at the end of the day. If the worst thing that happens is I go out tomorrow and don’t play well, I don’t play well, it’s not the end of the world. No-one’s dead. I’ll still go home to my family and friends so I’m just going to go out there and relax and play well, hopefully.”
It is an attitude that would appear in line with Padraig Harrington’s advice for the 24-year-old, though following his one-over-par 71, the three-time major champion said: “He shot four shots better than me, what advice would I give him?
“Keep playing golf. If I was him, expect to ride the emotions, he’ll have some good runs and some bad runs. If he’s prepared to ride those emotions he could be there or thereabouts.
Sugrue will play the Masters in November, the final reward for his Amateur Championship success at Portmarnock, after which he is likely to turn pro, insistent that though his status will change, his approach will not, in part thanks to a mid-lockdown Zoom call the GUI set up with Rory McIlroy for its national panelists.
“No. It’s been my attitude all along so it would be a bit silly of me to think otherwise. I always thought it was the wrong attitude to have in golf until Rory did a Zoom call with us earlier on in the year and he has the same attitude.
“So if he can come out with the same attitude I feel like I can say it too.”
When asked about Sugrue’s performance, Lowry was loathed to tempt fate and invite comparisons with his 2009 Irish victory but he said: “He won the Amateur Championship, he’s obviously a good player and I played a couple of times with him. He played last week and he had no joy there. He’s clearly not using that excuse!
“It’d be great to see him doing well, like anyone, but there’s a long way to go and anyone can shoot one good score, but it’s putting four together is what it’s all about.”
Nor would Lowry make excuses for his poor play yesterday, putting it down to bad decision-making and shot execution - “it was like a comedy of errors out there” - rather than his late arrival at Galgorm following an arduous 72 holes around Winged Foot and the long trip home from New York.
He has earned plaudits for supporting the Irish Open when others remained on the other side of the Atlantic but he bridled at the suggestion that being here was enough and missing the cut would not be the end of the world after nine weeks on the road.
“I’m not here to make up the numbers. I’m not coming here and it’s like, ‘isn’t it great Shane’s here’, I didn’t come here for that.
“I came here to play the tournament because it’s the Irish Open, I’ve always said I’d love to win another one of these. And I came here to do that and look, it’s a big task from here but nothing’s impossible.”