Leona Maguire lives and breathes the Solheim Cup. For the player from the lakes and drumlins of Cavan, the tournament has become part of her DNA, and once again, in the hills above the Costa del Sol, the 28-year-old proved a driving force for Europe as the team made history in a drawn match by retaining the crystal trophy and lifting it for the third time in a row.
On a day of drama, where Europe and the United States each eyed up the grand prize, and as its destination swung one way and then another and back again, it was fitting that Carlota Ciganda – the only Spaniard in the team – should secure the point in a 2&1 win over Nelly Korda that guaranteed retention of the Solheim Cup with the match tied at 14-14.
Maguire had been asked by captain Suzann Pettersen to show the way, and she did with a comprehensive 4&3 win over Rose Zhang. “I knew I would have to bring my A-game,” she remarked. She did too, posting five birdies and an eagle in her singles.
And Maguire impressively followed up her MVP performance from Toledo two years ago with another starring role, contributing three points in playing all five sessions. Those three wins all came when playing her own ball – twice in fourballs and in the singles – while the two losses, both on the 18th, came in the foursomes.
“I love this team. I love playing in this event. You want to play as many times as you possibly can. Suzann made it very clear a couple of months ago that I would be playing five (times), and I think with the energy of this crowd and everything, I could have played 10,” said Maguire, who most assuredly will again be at the centre of Europe’s bid to retain the Waterford Crystal trophy when it is played in Virginia next September as the match returns to even years in the calendar.
For Maguire the huge Irish support among the galleries was evident. “Europe Abú Vamos Leona,” read one message drawn on a Tricolour as the roars followed her up and down and around the course chiselled out of the mountainside.
“Let’s Go Leona,” it went, with the Olé Olé Olé chant adopted as a European anthem of sorts for each of those added points along the way. And then came Ciganda’s wondrous birdie-birdie finish (on 16 and 17) to beat Korda which lead to wild celebrations and an impromptu invasion of the 17th green that really shouldn’t have happened given the anchor match between Emily Pedersen and Lexi Thompson was still alive.
Perhaps everyone, players and captain and vice-captains, lost the run of themselves in the moment. And for sure Europe’s exuberance was all the more for the fact that it seemed as if the trophy was destined for American hands only for the remarkable comeback of Caroline Hedwall (three down with six to play) who finished birdie-birdie-par-birdie-birdie-(conceded) eagle to win by 2 holes against Ally Ewing.
That performance of Hedwall was followed by further drama as Maja Stark closed out US Open champion Lilia Vu and then Ciganda, tied with Korda on the 16th tee, went birdie-birdie to win her match and ensure the Americans couldn’t win. Cue wild scenes of jubilation.
Maguire had led the way with her win over Zhang, and Europe’s other singles wins were delivered by Anna Nordqvist, Hedwall, Stark and Ciganda, while Georgia Hall and Gemma Dryburgh delivered halved points that contributed to Europe’s total.
For Maguire there was also an appreciation of those who had travelled to support her. “The Irish fans this week have just been phenomenal. It felt like I was playing at home. It was just good energy. For all of them that made the trip I’m incredibly grateful.”
The tie was the first in the Solheim Cup’s history in this 18th edition of the match, and means Europe will be seeking to lift the trophy for a fourth straight time at Robert Trent Jones resort in Virigina next September.
And with Ciganda getting the retaining point in Spain, does Maguire hope that one day she could emulate the feat?
“We’ve had one Solheim [at Killeen Castle in 2011]. If we could have another one, that would be fantastic. But every single one I’ve been a part of has been incredibly special and no matter where they are in the world, hopefully, I get to be a part of it. I know there are a few Irish golf clubs that are interested in hosting and hopefully, they’ve seen what’s happened in these last two and maybe there’s a little bit extra incentive for them,” said Maguire.