Su­grue stays strong in the South wind

Mal­low man was se­ri­ously im­pres­sive in beat­ing much her­alded O’Rourke

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Brian Keogh:

They say hap­pi­ness is a long walk with a put­ter but for Mal­low’s James Su­grue it wasn’t just his touch on the greens that gave him his first ma­jor win, but a deadly com­bi­na­tion of ball-strik­ing bril­liance and calm­ness un­der pres­sure.

Few can re­mem­ber a tougher South of Ire­land Cham­pi­onship as a re­lent­less westerly wind, gust­ing up to 40 mph for the Pierse Mo­tors Volk­swa­gen-spon­sored clas­sic, buf­feted the play­ers for five days in a row. In the end, it was a case of sur­vival of the fittest – phys­i­cally, men­tally and tech­ni­cally – and even­tual run­ner-up Conor O’Rourke gra­ciously con­ceded that he was beaten by the bet­ter man.

“It was the mid­dle part of the round, and I think he just got on top of me,” a bit­terly dis­ap­pointed O’Rourke said of that cru­cial run from the 10th to the 13th where Su­grue com­bined nerve­less putting and clever course man­age­ment with a sprin­kling of good for­tune to lay the foun­da­tions of a tho­rughly de­served 3 and 2 vic­tory.

“He prob­a­bly got those lit­tle breaks you need to win an event which I got to win the St An­drews Links Tro­phy last year. But to be hon­est, I am not as dis­ap­pointed as I thought I might be to lose a fi­nal. I played re­ally nice golf, and James just played bet­ter.”

A strap­ping 20-year old with a Con­nacht Boys, a Mun­ster Youths ti­tle and three years of in­ter­na­tional boys golf on his CV, he was con­sid­ered some­thing of an un­der­achiever un­til yes­ter­day.

Re­lent­less from tee to green, he had an epiphany at Bal­tray in June when he re­alised that he was go­ing nowhere un­less he ad­dressed his weak­ness on the greens.

“I had ab­so­lutely no con­fi­dence with the put­ter,” he said. “Hit­ting 15 or 16 greens and hav- ing 40 putts was a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

Hard work

“At the East this year I hit 16, 15, 14 and 16 greens and only shot one round un­der par and said, right, I have to change.”

His de­ci­sion to learn the AimPoint method un­der Gareth McShea at Ed­mond­stown was every bit as im­por­tant as the years of hard work he had done on his swing with Mark Collins at Mal­low Driv­ing Range.

It was a ma­jor wake up call on a par with the elab­o­rate plans he made to avoid over- sleep­ing for his 8.45am show­down with Irish Am­a­teur Open cham­pion Peter O’Ke­effe.

Af­ter be­ing dis­qual­i­fied for miss­ing his first round tee time in the “North” a few weeks ago, Su­grue joked: “I had a wake-up call, two alarms set and my cad­die ring­ing me and my Mam ring­ing me at 7am this morn­ing. There was no way I was sleep­ing it in this time!”

O’Ke­effe was left wish­ing one of them had stayed in bed af­ter watch­ing Su­grue hole four 10 foot­ers in the space of five holes to beat him 2 and 1.

It wasn’t just putting that beat O’Rourke but a se­ries of su­perb tee shots and rak­ing long irons on the 6,950-yard Old Course that was at its pris­tine best.

The Naas man was sen­sa­tional all week, com­ing out on top in the long­est match in the his­tory of the “South” on Sat­ur­day morn­ing when he beat Lay­town and Bet­tys­town’s Thomas Mul­li­gan on the 27th be­fore elim­i­nat­ing lead­ing qual­i­fier Rowan Lester on the 18th in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

Bril­liance

In the semi-fi­nals, O’Rourke was again su­perb as he hit West of Ire­land cham­pion Barry An­der­son from Royal Dublin with a birdie bar­rage to win 3 and 2.

But he had to take his hat off to the ball-strik­ing bril­liance and sure touch of an in­spired Su­grue in the fi­nal.

The Mal­low man rolled in a 35 footer for birdie at the first, halved the sec­ond in birdie and then won the third with a par and the fourth with a con­ceded ea­gle three to go three up.

O’Rourke won the fifth, lost the sev­enth but took the eighth in par and the ninth in birdie to be just one down at the turn.

But he ad­mit­ted that match was de­cided in the first four holes on the back nine as Su­grue won the 10th in par to go two up again, holed a 25 footer for a half in par at the short 11th and then pitched in from more than 20 yards for ea­gle at the 12th to go three up.

Fac­ing a slick 18 footer from the back of the 13th, he was for­tu­nate that his speedy putt hit the back of the hole a thump and fin­ished six inches away rather than trundling 20 feet away down a tier.

Af­ter bravely hol­ing from 10 feet to stay alive at the 15th, where Sugure his a glo­ri­ous, 198 yard three iron to 15 feet, O’Rourke over­shot the 16th and nar­rowly failed to chip in, leav­ing Su­grue two putts for the ti­tle from 12 feet which he duly took.

The cham­pion con­ceded that the 25 footer he holed for a half at the 11th was “big”. But his ea­gle at the par-five 12th ar­guably broke O’Rourke’s heart.

“You can reach it all day long but there is no way you are keep­ing it on the green with that wind at your back,” Su­grue said. “It is a rel­a­tively easy chip from short. So I hit an eight iron from 240 yards and knew I wasn’t go­ing to get up.”

With O’Rourke just six feet away in three, Su­grue chose a 60-de­gree wedge and nipped it per­fectly.

Thrilled to win Mun­ster’s flag­ship event af­ter miss­ing the cut in his first two ap­pear­ances, he said: “I am ab­so­lutely de­lighted. Out­side the Irish Am­a­teur Open, this is the one I wanted to win be­cause I’m from the south and be­cause it’s Lahinch.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: FRAN CAFFREY/GOLFFILE

Rowan Lester (Her­mitage), Pat Mur­ray (Clon­tarf) in ac­tion dur­ing the last 16 of the South of Ire­land at Lahinch golf club.

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