The home fans in a big crowd got the result they were looking for as Mallow man James Sugrue came out on top in the 124th Amateur Championship final at Portmarnock but only after he survived a gutsy fightback from his Scottish opponent, Euan Walker.
Bidding to become the second Kilmarnock (Barassie) member to claim the coveted title after big Gordon Sherry’s success at Royal Liverpool in 1995, Walker was in danger of suffering a hiding after losing the first three holes then finding himself five down after nine in the 36-hole decider.
The 23-year-old, who had defeated his Scottish team-mate Sandy Scott en route to the final, rallied to reduce that deficit to three holes at the halfway stage before falling four down early on in the afternoon circuit. But, as had been the case throughout the knock-out stage in the first staging of the amateur game’s blue ribbon event at the Irish venue in 70 years, Walker never gave up the fight and, helped by three birdies in five holes, he found himself only one down heading to the back nine.
Sugrue, 22, started that stretch with a birdie to go two up before Walker replied with a birdie at the par-5 13th then, two holes later, got it back to all square for the first time since he’d lost the opening hole. Bidding to become the first Scot to lift the title since Bradley Neil did the trick at Royal Portrush in 2014, Walker then holed from three feet for a half in birdie-4s at the 16th only to find himself trailing again after being unable to get up and down at the next.
That left the Ayrshireman needing to win the last to force extra holes but, after going through the back with his approach from the right rough, he looked on in dismay as a putt failed to reach the top of a bank and trundled back to his feet.
Sugrue, who had been faced with a tougher shot after also going off the green, was then able to play conservatively as a bogey-5 proved good enough to see him become the first Irishman to be crowned as champion since Alan Dunbar at Royal Troon in 2012.
“James is such a good player,” said Walker after joining compatriots Bob MacIntyre, Grant Forrest, Michael Stewart and James Byrne in falling at the final hurdle in the last decade. “I couldn’t give him the first three holes and expect an easy comeback from there, even though it was 36 holes. I did play much better the back nine of the first round and then into the second round. It wasn’t the volume of the people that was a challenge, it was the match itself as James is playing so well.”
The title triumph earned Sugrue a dream date on home soil in next month’s Open Championship, as well as spots in both The Masters and US Open next year. “I was very worried when it went back to all square, very worried,” he admitted.