Euan Walker reaches Amateur Championship final at Portmarnock

Ayrshireman Euan Walker, winner of the African Amateur earlier in the year, now has the Amateur Championship in his sights after setting up a title showdown with Ireland’s James Sugrue at Portmarnock.

PORTMARNOCK, IRELAND - JUNE 21: Euan Walker of Scotland in action during day five of the R&A Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club on June 21, 2019 in Portmarnock, Ireland. (Photo by Luke Walker/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
PORTMARNOCK, IRELAND - JUNE 21: Euan Walker of Scotland in action during day five of the R&A Amateur Championship at Portmarnock Golf Club on June 21, 2019 in Portmarnock, Ireland. (Photo by Luke Walker/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Bidding to become the second Kilmarnock (Barassie) member to claim the prize in the amateur game’s blue ribbon event after Gordon Sherry’s success at Royal Liverpool in 1995, Walker showed grit and determination to keep his title hopes alive.

The 23-year-old fought back from being two down with five to play to beat Nairn’s Sandy Scott at the 19th in an all-Scottish quarter-final before also turning his last-four clash around on the back nine to beat England’s Ben Jones 2&1.

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Walker will now be hoping for more of the same as he takes on 22-year-old Sugrue in the 36-hole final, with the Mallow man set to be cheered on by a big home support as he bids to become the first Irishman to be crowned as champion since Alan Dunbar came out on top at Royal Troon in 2012.

“It feels amazing,” said Walker of making it to the title decider in just the event’s second staging at Portmarnock. “I’ve been working hard for so long to achieve this and to finally get to this level and this stage in such a big event is absolutely amazing. It feels great, very satisfying.

“It was tough playing against Sandy, we are obviously good friends. I think we both played well this morning and it was a shame for either of us to lose. I actually think he got very unfortunate at the first extra hole, which I didn’t realise at the time, he was in a divot and that caused him difficulty on approach.

“The game had moved back and forth during the regulation 18 and I was obviously really pleased to win that, but I didn’t want to celebrate or anything like that against a friend.

“It could have gone either way again this afternoon. The quality of the golf was not as good but I think that was mainly because of the conditions as it was much windier this afternoon. It was really difficult.

“The course is difficult enough and with a little bit of wind it makes it incredibly tough. It was back and forth and I felt on 13 that I finally got the edge, hitting it in close for eagle and getting the concession. I knew from that point if I played the way I knew I could hold out and I finished strongly.”

On the final, he added: “I’m just going to have to try and handle the home crowds. I’ve never been in the situation before when everyone is going to be rooting against me, although I’m not quite sure if that will be true.

“I’ll just need to focus on my mental outlook and stay strong. I’m sure I’ll be able to do that. Hopefully I can hit some good shots and get the applause, too.”

The winner will secure a spot in next month’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush, as well as getting into both The Masters and US Open in 2020.

“It’s amazing to have major championships on the line, but I’ll think about that tomorrow after the match. A win tomorrow would top my career,” said Walker.

“In the future, I think everybody at this level wants to play professional golf and that is still a dream of mine. Hopefully I can think about that and get a solid career foundation going forward.”

Walker displayed his stroke-play prowess when winning the African Amateur Championship at Leopard Creek in February, joining Liam Johnston, who is playing on the European Tour this season, in landing a Scottish success in that particular event.

He is now looking equally comfortable in a match-play format and is surely now a certainty to make the Great Britain & Ireland team for the Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool in September, having been among six Scots named in an initial squad for the biennial clash with the Americans.

Cork native Sugrue holed crucial putts at both the 17th and 18th before he eventually beat Dutchman Koen Kouwenaar at the 19th in his quarter-final then, to the delight of the home fans, followed that up with a 3&1 afternoon win over Australian David Micheluzzi.

“You think about it in bed at night,” Sugrue said when asked about winning the trophy. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but you do. We were talking about, as an amateur sport, probably the best prize you can win is this and then get to play in The Open, the Masters.”

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