From prodigy to pioneer, Leona Maguire’s star continues to rise

26-year-old Solheim Cup trailblazer has been turning heads with some fine performances

Leona Maguire in action during the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: John Cowpland/Inpho

Leona Maguire in action during the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: John Cowpland/Inpho

 

Back in June of 2010, Leona Maguire found a seat in a corner of the wonderfully quaint and old world clubhouse of Essex Country Club in the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea on the northern outskirts of Boston. A teenager in the middle of golfing history, already identified as one for the future.

The club was the home of the Curtis sisters - Harriet and Margaret - who donated the trophy bearing their surname to be played for biennially between the leading amateur players representing players from the United States, Britain and Ireland and, that week, Leona (15 minutes the younger) and her twin sister Lisa, had the distinction - at 15 years of age - of becoming the youngest players to represent Britain and Ireland.

“This is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and you just have to enjoy it while you get it, you’ve got to make the most of it,” said Leona at the time, with the voice of experience beyond her years.

A history-maker that week, her career path has continued to see her pioneering journey for Irish women’s golf as one of achieving one landmark after another, including a record stint - 135 weeks in total - as the world amateur number one and onwards into the professional ranks that has seen her become a force on the LPGA Tour and, significantly, become the first Irishwoman to make a Solheim Cup team for next week’s match at Inverness Country Club in Toledo, Ohio.

Yet, it’s worth noting that fate played a hand in her first taking up golf: it was after Lisa, aged nine, suffered a broken elbow and, unable to swim which at the time was the pair’s sport of choice, got medical advice to take up a racquets-style sport with a swing that would aid her rehabilitation which provided the catalyst.

Rather than tennis or badminton or squash, golf - influenced by their father, Declan, himself a keen golfer – was chosen . . . and, as twins do, Leona too started playing golf.

Dominance

Those first shots were fashioned on the parkland courses of Castlehume Golf Club outside Enniskillen and at the Slieve Russell resort in Ballyconnell, near the Co Cavan family home; and, through their teenage years, the Maguire twins dominated not just girls’ but women’s golf on the national stage but extended their dominance onto the international stage.

While many other teenaged golfing stars opted to turn professional early, the route followed by Leona – and Lisa – was through the American collegiate system favoured by many others.

“I guess Mam (Breda) and Dad (Declan) being schoolteachers, they wanted us to get a good education. You never know what’s going to happen down the road, so it is nice to have that (degree) even if you’re not going to use it, it’s nice to have that reassurance that it is there,” said Maguire, who graduated in 2018 with a degree in psychology and a certificate in markets and management and was recognised for high academic achievement as well as excelling on the golf course.

Leona Maguire has delivered a number of eye-catching performances this season. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty
Leona Maguire has delivered a number of eye-catching performances this season. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

That college experience – academically and golfing wise – has stood Maguire well.

Maguire’s upward trending in the professional game (she is currently ranked 43rd in the Rolex world rankings) shouldn’t surprise anyone. As she puts it, “I suppose I have worked my way up the ladder, ticking every box on the way. It has all been about making sure that I achieve at every level.

“ That gives you confidence, which then carries over into the next stage. So, yes, I’ve done it my way. Some people have agreed with that; some have not. But I’ve been fortunate to have a good team around me. I’ve relied on them and it has worked out well.”

That Team Maguire, it should be noted, starts with family. Her parents, her sister (Lisa is now part of the Modest Golf management, founded by singer Niall Horan). Her coach, Shane O’Grady. Her caddie, experienced bagman Dermot Byrne. Closely knit, and high achievers.

Seasoned professional

Maguire, who turned professional in 2018 and got her full LPGA Tour through the Symetra Tour’s order of merit the following year, is still technically a rookie on the main circuit but this year has played like a seasoned professional.

In 15 starts this season on the LPGA Tour, Maguire has two runners-up finishes (in the Lotte Championship and in the Meijer Classic) among five top-10s while, in terms of prizemoney, she has accumulated $794,503 in moving to eighth place on the LPGA Tour’s Race to CME Globe and is ranked fourth in scoring average (69.94).

If that consistency was enough to turn Catriona Matthew’s head in giving Maguire a Solheim Cup captain’s wild card pick for next week’s showcase women’s team match, there were other head turning moments in the season, not least in firing a 61 in the final round of the Evian Championship, the season’s fourth Major. The 61 equalled the lowest round (by a man or woman) in the history of the Majors.

As Ireland’s first Solheim Cup player, Maguire continues to pioneer a pathway for Irish women golfers. Growing up, she had her own role models. “I did look up to Annika (Sorenstam) when I was growing up. She was the first who worked hard in the gym, worked the hardest out on tour, had a great short game. In terms of golf, I looked up to her and to Pádraig (Harrington), a lot of the guys.”

Now, she’s the role model.

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