Patient, pioneering - Leona Maguire, making her own quiet way to the top

Breakthrough win on LPGA Tour is a vindication of talent and meticulous planning

There is no one pathway to fame and fortune. For sure, Leona Maguire’s journey - a pioneering one in so many ways, learning her craft initially as a young girl on a course at the Slieve Russell built amidst drumlins and lakeland - was done in her own way, in her own time.

There was no rush into the professional ranks. Rather, Maguire's route was plotted with meticulous precision and with a great work ethic, always nurtured by a close-knit family and team, that saw her achieve at every step: as a teenage prodigy winning Irish titles, as a standout player on the US collegiate circuit in her time as Duke University in North Carolina, as the dominant woman amateur in the world (holding the number one spot for a record 135 weeks) and, then, in a professional career that took on an upward curve from the very start.

Maguire's performance in inspiring Europe to Solheim Cup victory over the United States last September brought her global acclaim; yet, it was the homecoming, where she was driven in a gold BMW convertible to an ecstatic reception among her own, that told us everything. Her golfing travels may have her crisscrossing the globe, but her body and soul is entrenched in Co Cavan.

After a couple of near-misses in 2021, finishing runner-up twice, Maguire’s breakthrough win in the Drive On Championship finally enabled her to make history in becoming the first Irish player to win on the LPGA Tour.

“I’ve worked my way up the levels every time. It’s been a meticulous journey. I did it my way, the way I wanted to do it, with the help of my team around me,” said Maguire, adding: “I feel like the way I’ve gone about it, I’ve prepared at each level and mastered each level. I know people probably thought I was going to win before this.

“I was maybe getting a little impatient last year, but I think going down the stretch at Meijer last year with Nelly (Korda), that was a huge confidence boost for me. Knowing that she was three shots ahead and I nearly closed the gap, but really felt like I held my own that week, and then the 61 at Evian too, and Solheim Cup was a massive confidence booster.

“The Solheim Cup is one thing. To do it in an individual event when it’s just you out there by yourself, it’s a different ballgame. I feel like I’ve been growing all the time.”

It was at the Ryder Cup at The K Club that Leona and twin sister Lisa brought the trophy up on stage at the presentation ceremony, sharing the spotlight with Ian Woosnam's winning team. Lisa's own professional career didn't work out but she is an integral part of the team, working for Modest! Golf - the sports management company established by singer Niall Horan - in looking after Leona.

“I’ve always kept my circle small, that’s been it from day on. Mom (Breda), Dad (Declan), Shane (O’Grady, coach), my phsyio, nutritionists, the staff at the Institute of Sport . . . just relying on the people that I trust I think has been massive. Sticking to my guns knowing that what I was doing was working. I just needed a little bit more time.

“I’m obviously delighted for people to be able to enjoy the win but, at the same time. I’m the one hitting the shots and putting in the long hours. I’m the one that’s there at the range until dark, up first thing.”

Day one

Shane O’Grady, her coach, has been her teacher through it all. Last week, before the Drive On Championship, the way of the world these days played a helping hand as player and coach FaceTimed each other. Maguire on the range in Fort Meyers in Florida, O’Grady in the car parked outside his children’s school.

“Shane has been there from day one. He’s been a massive part of this journey. It’s those little things that you just need that little feeling sometimes for things to click,” said Maguire of the pre-tournament long distance coaching lesson.

Another more recent addition to the team has been that of Dermot Byrne, who previously caddied for Shane Lowry. Byrne came on board mid-season last year and the partnership has been golden. "That phone call to Dermot really sort of changed round the entire season. He's been a part of a lot of big events, some big wins with Shane (Lowry) obviously.

“He’s had a great career as a caddie. He didn’t have to take my call. He took a big gamble coming out here on the LPGA never having done it. He’s been a massive help.”

As Maguire observed afterwards of her breakthrough win being “17 years in the making” since taking up golf as a young girl, the road to victory has been of her own making. The journey onwards will be of further pioneering steps.