Practice is a pale imitation of the real thing, but it is a necessary evil. In the Solheim Cup, it’s part of the bonding process as much as a sharpening of the game. Leona Maguire knows this much, and the Co Cavan golfer’s familiarisation with the hilly, ahem mountainous, terrain of Finca Cortesin in the Costa del Sol continued with a mix of joviality and seriousness in her latest quartet.
Where Anna Nordqvist was like a pied-piper with her legions of fans cast in identikit yellow T-shirts, the Swede’s name – ANNA – across the front, and with children of matching attire coaxed on to the fairways to walk with her, Maguire and Linn Grant and Carlotta Ciganda enjoyed the feeling of a calm before the storm. No T-shirt wearing fans for them, but plenty of vocal support from outside the ropes.
Maguire, for one, seemed at ease and yet focused. On Tuesday she had five birdies and an eagle in her 18 holes practice round and, with Wednesday’s familiarity exercise restricted to nine holes to conserve energy on the mountainside and in the heat, there was a sense of making the most of the time on the course.
Where caddie Dermot Byrne scrutinised his yardage book from the fairways, Maguire’s rangefinder was also a constant yardage tool. The teamwork that was evident in Maguire’s debut Solheim Cup in Toledo – four-and-a-half points from five, remember – has a hard act to follow. Incidentally, all the players received gifts of Bushnells as part of their welcome packs.
“Obviously last time went about as well as it possibly could have, but it’s a brand-new event this time, it’s a brand-new venue, a brand-new team, both on the Europe and the US side. I think the US have a fantastic team this time. I think they have a young team that’s ready to go,” said Maguire.
“Ultimately, I’ll try and win as many points as I can, but we’ll just prepare as well as we can and go in with very little expectations like the last time, the same way as I approach any other event. Just because it’s worked well in the past doesn’t really make much difference for this time.”
The personalised Europe team bags have two flags on each, one for Europe and one for the player’s nationality. There are also Solheim Cup emblems worked into the fabric. Eight for Nordqvist. Six for Ciganda. One for Grant, the debutant. Two for Maguire.
Maguire hit the ground running in Toledo, but in an atmosphere dominated by hometown American support given Covid restrictions on travel that were still in play. Here in Spain, it’s a different tale. On practice days, it’s already evident. She can hear the shouts of encouragement, see the tricolours. Feel the love. Even on her plane out to Malaga on Sunday, the goodwill and good luck messages came her way. It has only grown in the days since.
It’s part of the deal. On finishing up her practice on the 18th green, Maguire made for the waiting golf cart. Byrne getting in the front seat, Leona on the back. Then, the requests for selfies and photos begun, among them a group of women from Adare Manor Golf Club. “She’s the lady captain,” came the ask from one as Phil Mann moved in and was among those accommodated by Maguire. Another snapshot to add to her year’s work.
The guessing game will continue as to who Maguire will be paired with when Europe captain Suzann Pettersen does the big reveal when pairings for Friday’s foursomes are officially announced at the opening ceremony in the Marbella Arena on Thursday night.
“There’s lots of options of who can play with who. It’s obviously a new team and you’ll see some familiar pairings and some new pairings. [Suzann Pettersen has] done a lot of these, she’s [played] nine herself, so she knows what she’s doing,” said Maguire, adding: “We’ll play with just about anybody, so we’re going to do whatever Suzann needs us to do this week.”
Maguire will be an easy fit with many. As Charley Hull observed of this being Maguire’s second Solheim Cup appearance, “She’s only been on tour for, what, four years now? So, she’s been in both the Solheim Cups that she could be in and she’s going to be on a lot more as well.”
For sure, there’s no doubt from Pettersen about what Maguire brings to the party. “I just think she’s the type of player you would like to keep on the course at all times. She’s just that feisty. She’s just that good.
“As soon as those sunglasses go on she’s in her own little bubble and just keep her there. She kind of proved that pretty well in Toledo and I’m pretty sure she’s going to be quite competitive this week,” said Pettersen.
The countdown clock to the real thing is ticking. The long week is shortening to when the practice is put in the rear-view mirror and every shot counts. Maguire is ready.