Had it not been for the late intervention of Lee Westwood last week, James Sugrue may not have even been at Galgorm Castle, let alone been leading Irishman after day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The Mallow amateur, last year’s Amateur champion, had off-handedly asked his playing partner at last week’s US Open if he would be competing in Ballymena this week and while Westwood was never down to play, the Englishman was stunned to learn Sugrue hadn’t even received an invite.
“I won’t tell you what he actually said but he couldn’t believe it, let’s just say that,” said Sugrue, with a slight grin.
“So he went in and did me a huge favour in the media tent and I’m here today.”
Not only is he here at Galgorm, he’s excelling. The 23-year-old mixed five birdies with two bogeys in a fantastic three-under opening-round 67 at the Co Antrim course to lie just two shots off the early lead.
At that mark, he’s the best local player by a whopping three shots — Damien McGrane is at level par — beating the likes of Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Paul Dunne to earn top billing heading into day two.
“I played lovely. I hit it nice but didn’t hole a whole pile then just started holing a few putts. I hit a lovely shot into the sixth, a lovely six-iron into about three or four feet, and then kicked on from there,” said Sugrue.
Still only an amateur, Sugrue has already shown wisdom and a cool head well beyond his inexperience at the professional level, and he revealed that the insight of Rory McIlroy has helped him make the transition from amateur events to competing alongside the pros.
Asked whether he’s already looking at potentially being in the mix coming down the stretch at the weekend, the young Irishman insists that’s not a pressing concern for him, something that four-time Major champion McIlroy convinced him was the right attitude.
“I don’t really look into it too much. It’s only a game of golf at the end of the day,” added Sugrue. “If the worst thing that happens is I go out tomorrow and don’t play well, I don’t play well, it’s not the end of the world. No one’s dead. I’ll still go home to my family and friends, so I’m just going to go out there and relax and play well, hopefully.
“I always thought it was the wrong attitude to have in golf until Rory did a Zoom call with us earlier on in the year and he has the same attitude. So if he can come out with the same attitude, I feel like I can say it too.”