Irish Women’s Open: Leona Maguire the star attraction at Dromoland as young Irish players look to make their mark

Preview: There are 10 Irish players in Co Clare, indicative of the growing force of women’s golf on the island

The trailblazer has a number of eager beavers following in her wake. Leona Maguire’s star billing at the KPMG Women’s Irish Open is unquestioned, yet the presence of so many young Irish players – from teenager Olivia Costello to a number well into collegiate scholarships in the United States, a route also taken by the Cavan golfer – here at Dromoland Castle is indicative of a conveyor belt clicking into life.

“I will honestly go out there and have fun, like I have been doing all summer,” remarked Sara Byrne, the Irish Close champion from Douglas, who is one of seven Irish amateurs in the Ladies European Tour event which is in the second year of its rebirth after a 10-year absence from the circuit.

Its return to the LET last year saw Czech Republic’s Klára Davidson Spilkova lift the Waterford Crystal trophy and, for this latest instalment at the Co Clare, Maguire’s bid to succeed her also has the significant presence of those home amateurs who have sights of their own on one day playing professionally.

Their quality is obvious. Áine Donegan, for one, impressed hugely when competing in the US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. She is 21 and a business student at Louisiana State University. Beth Coulter is 19, and a student at Arizona State. This is her first taste of playing in a professional tournament but won’t be her last. Byrne is 22 and studying finance at Miami University.


Byrne recently played in two LET Access Tour events – finishing sixth and 12th – and has sought to keep feet firmly on the ground for the task ahead.

“I have confidence going in my game. I just need to trust my game and see what happens. It is my first big pro event, my first LET event, so I am just going out getting a lot of experience, having fun. A lot of my family are watching as well so it is one of those weeks where I’m not putting any expectations on myself,” said Byrne.

Byrne’s words were echoed by Maguire. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for them and hopefully they enjoy the week and don’t put too much pressure on themselves,” said the world number 17 – she dropped three places in this week’s updated Rolex rankings! – who very much has designs of her own on adding an LET title to her Meijer Classic win on the LPGA Tour in June, especially ahead of next month’s Solheim Cup in Spain.

Maguire finished one stroke outside of getting into a three-way playoff a year ago and, with the clashing Portland Classic on the LPGA Tour this week depriving this event of a number of potential players, among them Stepanie Meadow, the Solheim Cup star is very much the player they all have to beat.

Due to recent heavy rain, there is the possibility of placing on fairways for the opening round but the greens are expected to speed up – possibly to 11 on the stimpmeter – for the weekend.

Of returning to Dromoland for the second straight year, with the tournament expected to move to a venue in the Dublin area next year, Maguire remarked: “There’s been a few improvements. They have done a few new tees on 11 and 12 ... and 16 is different as well. I think the changes are really good, they have really improved the golf course and it’s nice to see them investing in the course and trying to make the course and event better every year that we come back.”

And of the possibility of another win? Maguire’s pre-tournament observations didn’t stray far from regular tour weeks.

As she put it, “everybody wants to win and most of your career is defined by wins but a lot of things have to slide into place to win and a lot of those things are outside of your control. For me it’s about executing on my preparation, making sure I’m prepared as possible and I’m playing on my own game. For me this year, it was about getting my driving better and more accurate off the tee and I’ve been doing that so far pretty well this year. I’m trying to keep going with that and giving myself chances every week if I can.”

Spilkova, back for the defence of her title, and with seven top-10s on the LET so far this season, has form to suggest another strong tilt:

“I am feeling really good, I know I can win again which is great. I am staying patient and it’s been a pretty long year to be honest, and it’s been very busy especially the summer stretch. I was starting to feel it a little bit mentally and physically as well, so that’s why I skipped Northern Ireland two weeks ago and it was nice to be home for two weeks and really get away from golf for a little bit and get some rest. Every week is a new week and you’re trying to do your best,” said Spilkova.

You suspect, those words make for a familiar mantra for everyone, young and old. It’s about deliverance.

Four to watch at Dromoland

Leona Maguire

World ranking: 17

Odds: 3/1

The biggest draw, without any doubt. Maguire – who finished just one shot outside of a playoff last year – is sure to attract a large gallery in her quest to claim the title. Already a winner on the LPGA Tour this season (in the Meijer Classic in June), the Co Cavan golfer has shown consistency through the season with only one missed cut in 17 tournaments and notching up six top-10s.

Diksha Dagar

World ranking: 160

Odds: 18/1

The 22-year-old Indian has the distinction of being the only golfer to play in the Deaflympics and the Olympics and has shown good recent form on the LET, most notably in securing a sixth placed finish in the ISPS Handa World Invitational a fortnight ago. Secured her second career win on the LET in June when claiming the Czech Open.

Gabriella Cowley

World ranking: 170

Odds: 20/1

Still seeking her breakthrough win on the LET, the English player has had a couple of near misses (runner-up in the 2021 Italian Open and at the recent ISPS Handa World Invitational). Cowley – 27 – came through the Access Tour to secure her status on the LET and is currently 11th on the Race to Costa del Sol order of merit.

Caroline Hedwall

World ranking: 118

Odds: 12/1

A seven-time winner on the LET and set to make a fifth career appearance in the Solheim Cup next month, the 34-year-old Swede’s long game should be well-suited to the demands around Dromoland Castle. Has shown decent recent form too, most notably a tied-sixth finish in the Scottish Open and a top-five in the Helsingborg Open.


KPMG Women’s Irish Open

Purse: €400,000 (€60,000 to the winner)

Where: Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare

The course: Dromoland Castle – 6,288 yards Par 72 – is parkland course designed by Ron Kirby and JB Carr on a 450-acres estate with mature trees and cleverly integrated water features. There has been a considerable investment to ensure the course is in pristine condition. The outward nine features just one Par 5 – the sixth – in a front nine par of 35, but there are three Par 5s on the inward nine par of 37, including the fine risk-reward 18th hole which – now minus the famed fairway tree – has the lake at the rear of the green.

The field: No doubt about the star attraction with Solheim Cup stalwart Leona Maguire headlining a field that also features Caroline Hedwall, another of those European bound for Spain in three weeks time for the defence of the famous crystal trophy. Former LET order of merit winner Lee-Anne Price is also playing while five winners on the LET this season – Diksa Dagar, Kristyna Napoleaova, Lisa Petterson, Patricia Isabel Schmidt and Lily May Humphreys – are in the field.

Quote-Unquote: “I would get scared of hitting bad shots but that was the first time in a couple of years where I was not scared of hitting good shots” – Denmark’s Nicole Broch Estrup recalling her hat-trick of birdies – from the 15th to the 17th in last year’s final round – to get into a playoff.

Irish in the field: Reflective of the growing strength of Irish women’s golf, there are 10 players – three professionals and seven amateurs – in the tournament: Beth Coulter (1st tee at 8.00am), Sara Byrne (10th tee at 8.00), Leona Maguire and Áine Donegan (10th tee at 9.06am), Victoria Craig (10th tee at 9.28am), Aideen Walsh (1st tee at 1.36pm), Olivia Mehaffey (10th tee at 1.58pm), Kate Lanigan (1st tee at 2.09pm), Olivia Costello (10th tee at 2.09pm), Emma Fleming (1st tee at 2.20pm).

On TV: Live on RTÉ2 (from 4pm) and Sky Sports Golf (5.30pm)

Omega European Masters

Purse: €2.5 million (€300,000 to the winner).

Where: Crans Montana, Switzerland

The course: Crans-sur-Sierre – 6,808 yards Par 70 – is unquestionably one of the most spectacular settings on the PGA European Tour, with the course located high in the Alps. The Seve Ballesteros-designed course has imprints of the legendary Spaniard and, given its altitude, the distance the ball travels provides a special test for players and caddies. The signature hole is the drivable risk-reward Par 4 seventh, of 331 yards to a green perched on a ledge and with copious bunkering around the green.

The field: Given it is the final tournament of the Europe’s Ryder Cup automatic qualifying, there is a strong field including some players – most notably Bob MacIntyre – looking to seal the deal for a place on Luke Donald’s team for Rome. Matt Fitzpatrick, who is currently outside the automatic qualifying, is the star attraction.

Quote-Unquote: “Obviously, all those [Ryder Cup] conversations are very flattering. I wouldn’t expect myself to be in that position so early on (in career), to be honest. But all I can do is try to prepare for every tournament the best I can” – Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, who been the surprise springer in the Ryder Cup wild-card conversation.

Irish in the field: Pádraig Harrington (10th tee at 7.20am Irish time), Tom McKibbin (10th tee at 7.30am), John Murphy (10th at 1.40pm).

Betting: Matt Fitzpatrick, a two-time winner at Crans, is the hot favourite at 8-1 with Sweden’s in-form fledgling pro Ludvig Aberg and Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard at 16s. Sebastian Soderberg is worth an each-way look at 80-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (from 12.30pm).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times