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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

'It's a balls, but it's not the end of the world' - Sugrue finds positives as Masters dream is delayed

The Cork golfer talks to The42 about the postponing of Augusta National, putting his pro career on hold, and mixing it with Tiger Woods.

James Sugrue poses at the Open in Royal Portrush last year.
James Sugrue poses at the Open in Royal Portrush last year.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

WE HAVE ALL made our concessions to these abnormal days, and James Sugrue awoke last week hoping Augusta National drove a harder bargain. 

“I scanned through the email, and I was just hoping to see the world ‘postponed’ rather than ‘cancelled.’ When I saw the word postponed, it wasn’t too bad. At least we’ll get to go there at some stage.” 

But this is Augusta National we’re talking about, a club that for decades resisted nationwide tidal waves of gender equality and garish commercialism. They were hardly going to stand blithely aside for a mere pandemic. 

Thus it’s expected that the 2020 Masters will yet be staged, with early October the rumoured contingency plan. Sugrue, therefore, will get his stroll down Magnolia Lane. 

The invitation dropped through his letterbox in January, earned by dint of his winning the British Amateur Championship last July.

That victory earned him his spot at the Masters along with last year’s Open Championship at Portrush and the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot, which is slated for June and going ahead as it stands. 

Then along came a virus to suspend play and upend plans. Sugrue is now looking at an empty calendar until at least the Memorial Tournament in June, and plans to turn pro after the US Open have been put on hold.

“If I turn pro after the US Open, then I won’t get my Masters invite. And if I did turn pro in the summer, because the season is so crammed, I probably wouldn’t get that many invites as a pro, as they’ll have to give them to pros who have a status.

“It’s a balls, to be honest. So I’ll probably wait until after the Masters.

“It’s obviously not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. There’s a long career there in golf. Everything has been turned on its head so I’m not the only one whose season has been messed up. It’s fecked up everything.” 

His local golf course in Mallow is still open for practice, and he is at least confident that the Masters remains on his horizon, given the organisers are, in his and everyone else’s opinion, “too proper to let an invitation slip by the wayside.” 

Sugrue has canvassed pros’ experience on what to expect at Augusta, with most warning of the hills and the slopes that are flattened by television cameras, and the wind that blows elusively through Amen Corner. All have testified to the sheer beauty of the place. 

pga-the-masters-second-round A view of the 16th green at Augusta National. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“Everyone said that it’s spectacular, so I just hope in October that its beauty will still be there. I’m pretty sure it will. I know they make the azaleas bloom for the first week in April so I’m not too sure how that will work, but, ah, things could be a lot worse.” 

That’s what he expects of the Masters, but what does he remember? 

“Tiger chipping in and winning in 2005, that’s iconic. But last year, to see Tiger come back from everything that had happened and to win again on the biggest stage was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that.”

Sugrue moved into Woods’ orbit at the Open last year. 

“I met him and said hello to him and whatnot, but I haven’t had a coffee with him or anything. He was playing in the group behind me in one of the practice rounds: he was on the tee box while I was hitting shots from the fairway. That was about as much of a meeting as I had with the great Tiger Woods.

“I suppose Tiger is Tiger. I grew up watching him, he was always the king. He made golf special, he made it cool to play golf. He was just a cool dude.

“I remember when he walked on to the first tee, I was teeing off and my caddy went, ‘Holy fuck. There’s Tiger.’ He was only a couple of yards away from us.

“Even on the practice days, there were thousands following him. I was playing with Shane [Lowry] and we were in front of him. There were a few people watching us and about 5,000 people behind us watching him. It was a bit bizarre. They would be running up to the next hole then to try and see him, and we’d be on that hole, so that was a bit of a disaster.

“I’ll remember that: don’t play in front of Tiger Woods on a practice round.” 

tiger-woods-on-the-18th-hole Tiger Woods on the final hole at Royal Portrush last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

There were a few other lessons learned, too. Sugrue missed the cut at Portrush but believes the gap between the top of the amateur game and the pro circuit isn’t quite as steep as is widely believed. 

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“The pros are obviously better, but I don’t think top amateurs have to change their game a whole lot, just tidy things up here and there.

“I know it can look on TV that pros are bombers, ripping it 400 yards, but it’s not really like that in person. It’s more smooth, a case of ‘we’ll hit it down the fairway, then we’ll hit next to the pin. If we don’t, it’s okay, there are another 17 holes to play.’

“Amateurs can be a little more keyed up, taking on every shot they can. 

“I also think the pros trust their ability a little bit more. I find with some amateurs – myself included – we are sometimes afraid to hit a bad shot, as opposed to focusing on hitting on a good shot.

“And if you concentrate on hitting a good shot and then hit a bad shot, that’s okay.

“I’ve seen some of the best golfers in the world hit some of the worst shots in the world.

“People think pros don’t miss a shot: they do. At the Open, Tiger was next to me on the range and I saw him top two three-woods, one after another, that you wouldn’t see a 25-handicapper do.” 

Sugrue will have to wait a while longer to tee off at Augusta National, and although he is still just 23, he already has the kind of perspective on his golf game that should make light of the delay. 

“I tell myself it’s just golf.

“If you play bad, you play bad. Everyone has an off day. It’s not the end of the world, you can still go home and everyone will still be alive.

“It might be a bad day for you, but it’s not really a bad day.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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