Olivia Mehaffey and Leona Maguire to showcase Major talent

Two Irish women will be contesting the Women’s British Open at Woburn this week

Irish amateurs Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey will compete at Woburn in this week’s Women’s British Open. Photo: Getty Images

Irish amateurs Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey will compete at Woburn in this week’s Women’s British Open. Photo: Getty Images

 

While the world’s top male golfers contest the season’s fourth Major, the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol, Springfield New Jersey, the distaff side of elite golf will vie to be crowned the Women’s British Open champion at Woburn.

A generation of young male Irish golfers have been inspired by the exploits of Major winners Darren Clarke (one), Pádraig Harrington (three), Graeme McDowell (one) and Rory McIlroy (four) while Shane Lowry, also in action over the AW Tillinghast-designed Lower course layout this week, came very close to adding to that roll of honour at the recent US Open.

Irish women’s golf has yet to produce someone of that calibre in the professional firmament but that will hopefully change over the next few years.

If that is to be the case then two young Irish amateurs, Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey, who will tee it up alongside the elite of professional golf at the Ricoh British Open at Woburn may become the role models.

By some distance the outstanding Irish performance in the paid ranks belongs to Stephanie Meadow – not playing at Woburn this week – who finished third in the 2014 US Open behind Michelle Wie on her professional debut. She has demonstrated a return to form of late after experiencing a difficult time following the death of her father last year.

Breaking records

She has been breaking records and winning titles since the age of 11, when along with her twin sister Lisa, she captured the hearts and minds of the Irish sporting public.

The 21-year-old has been studying at Duke University for the past two years.

In her freshman year she won the Annika award – named after women’s golfing icon Annika Sorenstam – as the best player in American Collegiate golf along with numerous tournament titles.

She was the youngest player in Curtis Cup history at 15 (2010) and since then has helped the Britain & Ireland team to wins over the USA, the most recent coming at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in June, where she contributed four points to the wining tally.

Maguire is due to return to Duke for a third year this August but there are rumours that she is considering switching to the professional ranks instead, drawing inspiration from the fact that her predecessors as world amateur number one Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson have both acquitted themselves brilliantly in the paid ranks.

Ko (19), with two Majors already, is the youngest player, male or female, to win a professional tournament when she did so as a 14. She is ranked number one in the world with 19 wins as a professional.

Canadian Henderson (18) won her first Major, the Women’s PGA Championship, earlier this year, has three wins on LPGA Tour and is ranked number two, a remarkable start considering she only turned pro in 2014.

Maguire who competes at the Rio Olympics – Stephanie Meadow will also wear the Irish colours – may opt to go to the LPGA Tour qualifying school and then decide what her immediate future holds.

She has already demonstrated that she can be competitive in professional tournaments.

Royal County Down teenager Mehaffey (18), is another brilliant prospect, something illustrated by the fact that she was chased by a host of American colleges before deciding to commit to one of the top ranked schools in Arizona State, known as the Sun Devils.

Mehaffey won the Irish Close Championship and the Welsh Open Strokeplay, was third in the European Ladies Amateur Championships in Sweden and also contributed handsomely to the recent Curtis Cup victory. She will take up her American college option at the end of next month but has already demonstrated an aptitude to compete with the pros when previously playing in the Ladies European Tour (LET) in Morocco.

The Women’s British Open at Woburn will be screened live on BBC television starting today at 1.15pm and there are at least two good reasons from an Irish perspective why it’s worth tuning in.

Mehaffey is out at 7.37am alongside former world number one Yani Tseng and American Lizette Salas while Maguire (12.32pm) will have Spaniards Nuria Iturrios and Carolta Ciganda for company.

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