Solheim Cup success provides brief plateau as Leona Maguire aims for mountaintop

Irish star looking to push on for first win on tour after dream debut for Europe

An emotional Leona Maguire at her homecoming event  at the Slieve Russell Hotel on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

An emotional Leona Maguire at her homecoming event at the Slieve Russell Hotel on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

 

Leona Maguire looks and sounds like she has arrived at where she always thought she might, the climb of her career, a steady 45 degree angle of rise and rise.

A few Major tournaments, the Evian and British Open, the Tokyo Olympic Games and Solheim Cup, it could easily have become so bubble-headed and woozy for a rookie.

But the 26-year-old seems all too squarely rooted to normality to go ditzy under pressure. Today the kitchen sink modesty is even straining, Maguire’s competence and assurance talking about playing against and with the best players in the world a gripping first chapter of her ascension into the professional game.

Maybe it has always been there. But as a youngster it was not easy to draw much from Leona or her twin sister Lisa. Now there is undoubtedly a steely edge to her Cavan lilt and garrulous flow. That tells its own story.

“Yeah I mean my whole career has been quite methodically and meticulously planned out,” she says. “I suppose I’ve worked my way up all the levels in junior golf, amateur golf, college golf, up through the Symetra. So I’ve ticked every box at every level and that’s something that I kind of prided myself on.

“And this is just one more step, getting to compete against the best players in the world. But ultimately these are the girls we play with week-in, week-out.”

Her Solheim Cup partnership with England’s Mel Reid was less fire and ice than the rumbling of a thunder clap and bolt of lightning. Both of them highly competitive and fearless, on the first day’s play they dutifully served up the American sister act of Jessica and Nelly Korda, the world number one and Olympic champion. As Maguire distills down their chemistry, it was Reid who hit the irons, while she dropped the putts. An over simplification, but it was the framework for their union.

Good enough too for the officer class on the European team to hand her five matches over the long weekend in a stunning expression of confidence.

“That was a huge part of it against the Korda sisters on that first morning,” says Maguire. “Neither of us were afraid to go out against that pair and that was obviously the strongest pair the Americans could have put out. They were unbeaten in that format and had annihilated everybody last time out. Instead of being afraid of it, we were delighted.

Leona Maguire and Mel Reid celebrate on the 16th green during the fourball matches on day two of the Solheim Cup against the USA at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leona Maguire and Mel Reid celebrate on the 16th green during the fourball matches on day two of the Solheim Cup against the USA at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

“You don’t know what to expect until you are in those situations, and the same with the first tee,” she adds. “Everyone talks about the first tee at the Solheim Cup or Ryder Cup being the most nervous you will ever be in your life. You can’t get the ball on the tee. If you make contact, you are doing a good job. So to be able to stripe that drive down the fairway the first day was nice.

“I have grown up watching Mel on TV, and in Solheim Cups and all through her career. I think I played with her a long time ago, in the Irish Open in Killeen Castle back in 2010 or 2011. I suppose I was 15 or 16 at the time.

“We never played together on the LPGA, were never paired together, never played a practice round together. We got to know each other pretty quick last week, and I suppose we said all week it was a partnership that neither of us saw coming. But it worked incredibly well.”

What might stick for the rest of the season stimulates Maguire’s inquisitiveness. It is never, ever enough and the sense of this week being a high point is difficult to resist. At the very least she has grown in stature, the sure-footed metamorphosis from neophyte to senior player weeks in the making after years of nurturing.

Mathematically she has no clue where she sits on the lists and rankings and assumes Nelly Korda is streaking ahead of the rest. But with seven or eight events to play she will try to lengthen her stride, although not demand too much of herself. Her head tells her that much.

“I will try and finish as high up as possible in all of them. If I get a win, great. If not, I’ll take everything from this year and go gung-ho next year,” she says.

Along the way she will take in the men’s Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits in a few weeks time and walk a few rounds in their shoes. As a child there was no Irish woman on the LPGA tour so Maguire instead looked towards Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

Latterly British Open winner Shane Lowry, who has a big heart for the real things in sport, saw inspiration in Maguire’s carriage and poise and maybe most of all her shut-out ability in clutch moments.

“Yeah, we had gotten messages before we started from all the Ryder Cup lads and the over-arching message was, ‘Go win, bring the cup home and give us some momentum’,” she says.

“So we’ve done our bit. It’s over to them now to try and do the same. It’s kind of hard to put that into words. Pádraig is someone that I’ve looked up to my entire career. When I was starting up golf, he was winning his Majors, and it’s an honour from him to think that I’m up to that level. I’m only at the start of my career.

“He has been a huge supporter of mine, as has Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry and that has been a really important part as well. Seeing as there were no Irish ladies on the LPGA to look up to, they have been a tremendous help for me in my career starting off.”

More than a level head, there’s a Rolls-Royce purr off Maguire’s engine. There’s a walnut dashboard. And in top gear, she can floor it and you can still hear her steady clock tick tock, tick tock.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.