US Open just the next step on the ladder for Leona Maguire
Cavan golfer and Duke Blue Devil brings fine run of form to the Trump-owned host course
Leona Maguire of Slieve Russell poses with the trophy following her victory at the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship in June. Photograph: Richard Martin-Roberts/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
It’s best to compartmentalise Leona Maguire’s amateur golf career into manageable chunks because when viewed in its entirety it represents a hefty tome of success that can’t be shrink-wrapped into a paragraph or two.
Take the past 13 months for illustrative purposes, a timeframe in which the world number one helped Britain & Ireland beat the USA to win the Curtis Cup at Dún Laoghaire Golf club and finished in a tie for 21st place in the individual Strokeplay at the Rio Olympics, where she was tied for the low amateur score.
The 22-year-old Cavan golfer indicated she would turn professional after the Olympics but having successfully come through the second qualification stage to secure an LPGA tour card, she elected to return to Duke University in North Carolina to complete her degree, which she aims to do by the summer of 2018.
Only then will she look to the golf’s professional sibling. She said in an interview on the Golf Channel in America: “Ultimately I decided that Duke was the right place for me, it’s a special place and I have had some incredible opportunities there. I don’t like half doing things.
“I wanted to dedicate my time there, to honour the commitment given to my team and try and win a national title. We didn’t get it done this year but I have one more chance left to do it next year.
“It is one of the best decisions I ever made coming to Duke and deciding to stay. It is not something that I wanted to give up and decided, it is four years of my life that is incredibly valuable; I have learnt so much. I am surrounded by so many fantastic people on a daily basis that push me to be the very best I can be. It is something I value very much.”
This season alone as a member of Duke’s Blue Devils she recorded three tournament wins, eight top five finishes, nine rounds in the 60s and did not finish lower than tied sixth in 10 events.
The 2016-17 WGCA National Player of the Year, she earned the ANNIKA Award – named after Annika Sorenstam – as the National Player of the Year for a second time, the only golfer ever to do so and boasted a 70.29 stroke average for the season, which is the second-lowest in NCAA history.
She finished runner-up for the second time in three years in the US Collegiate championship and just by way of an overview of her time at Duke she has 26 top-10 finishes in her 30 competitive appearances.
Maguire propelled Ireland to a bronze medal in the World Amateur Team Championship last September and in May won the British Ladies Amateur Championship when beating Spain’s Ainhoa Olarra in the final at Pyle and Kenfig GC in Wales.
On Thursday she’ll get to measure her game against the world’s best professionals when she tees it up in the US Women’s Open at Trump National, Bedminster, New Jersey, playing alongside the world number one, Korea’s So Yeon Ryu and number two, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn.
Maguire’s current form and previous experience of rubbing shoulders competitively with professional golf’s elite – she missed the cut at last year’s US Open but was the low amateur at the British Open finishing 25th – suggests she’s won’t be fazed by this latest assignment.
This is further substantiated by her observation after playing with Lydia Ko, the then world number one professional, at the Olympics that the New Zealander didn’t hit the ball any further but an ability to get close from 100-yards and in and single putt, provided the greatest area of discrepancy in their respective games.
Ryu, a former US Open winner and has two victories this season, including a second Major and nine top-10 finishes from 12 starts, while Jutanugarn won won her first tournament of the season last month in May and has two top fives in the brace of Majors already played this season. Maguire will be hoping that playing with the best fuels her competitive genes.
She is joined in the field by Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow, Maguire’s erstwhile Olympic buddy and former Irish team-mate, who came through a qualifier at Hidden Creek Golf Club.
Meadow, 25, has fond memories of the US Open finishing third behind Michelle Wie in 2014 in what was the Antrim golfer’s first tournament as a professional having spent four years at the University of Alabama.
On the men’s tour that third place finish would have sufficed to earn a tour card but there are no shortcuts to the LPGA circuit and instead Meadow was obliged to go to Tour school, where she suffered the heartache of losing out in a 10-hole playoff for the final full tour card.
The loss of her father Robert to pancreatic cancer was an even tougher blow but the resilience that she’s shown from the time as a 14-year-old teenager, who along with her parents left Newtownabbey for Hilton Head to pursue her golfing dream, remains when lesser characters might have buckled.
This season she has made two just cuts from 12 tournaments, not playing at the weekend in the last nine, a run that leaves her languishing in 142nd place on the LPGA Order of Merit and desperately in need of a positive break in terms of fortune. It would be great if she could rekindle the form of 2014.
Meadow plays alongside Americans, Mariel Galdiano and Ally McDonald and tees off from the first at 13.35pm, Irish time. Maguire starts on the 10th at 12.29pm, Irish time. Sky Sports will broadcast the tournament with coverage beginning at 7.0pm each night.