Never once behind, but hunted all the way to the 36th green during Saturday’s final match, Irishman James Sugrue is the 2019 Amateur champion. Calling him the “British” Amateur champion would be technically incorrect, as the event was played for only the second time in its 134-year history at Portmarnock in the Republic of Ireland. That fact will make the biggest win of Sugrue’s life only more special for the man from the Mallow club in County Cork.
It was an intriguing if sometimes scrappy final against Scotsman Euan Walker, one dominated early by the eventual champion. After winning the opening three holes, Sugrue was 5 up by the turn in the morning round of the championship match. By lunch, the lead was reduced to 3 up, and it was Walker who played most of the better golf thereafter. An approximate four under par for the first 15 holes of the afternoon round, the Kilmarnock Barassie member (the club is actually in Troon) tied the match on the 33rd hole.
A crucial mistake from Walker, however, came on the 35th, where he made his first bogey in 17 holes. And the 36th hole was even worse for the Scot. Technically, it was conceded, making the final margin of victory 2 up. Whatever, in the 22-year-old Sugrue, Ireland has its eighth Amateur champion since the World Wat II and the first since Alan Dunbar in 2012.
Victory comes with many perks—places in the upcoming Open Championship at Royal Portrush and next year’s Masters and U.S. Open—even in an event that has lost some of its luster in recent years. Only two Amateur champions—Matteo Manassero in 2009 and Romain Langasque six years later—have made the cut at Augusta National in this century. And you have to go back to 2007, when Drew Weaver lifted the famous trophy, to find an American winner.
This year, the two finalists were at best unlikely. Sugrue, the 2017 South of Ireland champion, was actually the lowest ranked (249th) of the eight quarterfinalists, 178 spots down from Walker, who himself was 64 places behind the highest-ranked survivor at that stage (Australia’s David Micheluzzi). A quarterfinalist last year, Micheluzzi lost, 3 and 1, to Sugrue in the semifinals, after seeing off the last American, Cameron Sisk.
Neither finalists distinguished themselves in the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying led by Thomas Plumb of England and Dane John Axelsen. Walker was T-29 on 145, six shots behind the leaders, and Sugrue finished T-45 on 146, a second-round 69 on The Island course redeeming his opening 77 at Portmarnock.
Even in the knock-out stages, neither finalist had an easy time. Only once in his six matches did either man play fewer than 17 holes; four times each was taken to the 18th green or beyond. Neither, at least, can be faulted for endurance.