Joanne O’Riordan: Leona Maguire shows the future of women’s golf is bright

Women’s golf more fun to watch than men’s, as players plot their away around the course

Leona Maguire’s stock is rising as she delivers a series of impressive showings on tour. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty

Leona Maguire’s stock is rising as she delivers a series of impressive showings on tour. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty

 

While a limited amount of people are basking in the sunshine at Mount Juliet for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, you will be forgiven for not knowing that the future of women’s golf is right here, and it is competitive now more than ever.

Leona Maguire has been enjoying an incredible few weeks of success. She secured her best-ever finish at a major as she placed 15th in the LPGA tournament. It was her sixth top 20 finish in 11 tournaments this season, with five career top 10s, despite it being her rookie year.

Her putts per GIR has her in an incredible eighth on the tour, while her driving accuracy of 76.6 per cent has her well inside the top 50. But her on course stats are only half of it.

Her quiet demeanour sometimes overshadows her steely determination and confidence. In a busy tour, Maguire has found herself climbing up the leaderboard week after week. After losing out to eventual LPGA Champion, Nelly Korda, in the Meijer Classic in Michigan, Maguire said she was beginning to feel like she belongs on the tour, and why wouldn’t she?

Before her LPGA Championship performance and pushing Korda all the way, Maguire finished tied for ninth at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in California, and that came after she finished tied for second at the Lotte Championship in April.

And yet, in an incredibly competitive environment, it’s likely the Cavan superstar will probably push on. The past 11 majors have been won by 11 different players, including first-time winners Patty Tavatanakit (ANA Inspiration) and Yuka Saso (US Women’s Open) this year, with Korda winning last week’s LPGA Championship in Georgia.

Speaking of Korda, the ridiculous golf clinic she put on over the last two weeks is something to marvel at. This was her coming out party, effectively. Petr and Regina, her parents, once made on-court tennis headlines with a glittering family history, with her father winning the 1998 Australian Open. Nelly’s sister Jessica tied for 15th in the LPGA Championship, while her brother Seb is getting his Wimbledon show up and running.

Nelly Korda poses with the trophy after her victory in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty
Nelly Korda poses with the trophy after her victory in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty

The amount of potential for a woman golfer in America to be marketed, highlighted and showcased is sky high, and with Korda potentially filling the void, the sky is the limit for her, especially with her first major under her belt. And with this first major, she was the first American to win it since 2018, the first number one ranked American woman since 2014 (Stacy Lewis).

Korda’s talent isn’t solely reliant on a great short game. Her iron play and driving were something to behold in Georgia, and she could still dominate for years to come.

But, back to the golf clinic. In over 140 holes, at one stage, Nelly was -46 for 68 holes in a major. A definitive statement being made. She was nine clear of third place, and even though Lizzette Salas was dominant 99 per cent of the time, she ran into the Korda show. With this second-placed finish and the 2019 British Women’s Open, Salas will feel incredibly hard done by to not emerge victorious.

In some ways, women’s golf actually is more fun to watch. Instead of watching men drive the ball a billion yards because Bryson took eight protein shakes that morning, watching golfers actually calculate, plan out, assess and stroke each ball is enough for any wannabe golfer to learn from.

The beauty of women’s golf, particularly with it being more available to casual fans, let alone die-hards, is the talent and genuine ability there is for everybody to see. With Mollie Marcoux Samaan as the next LPGA commissioner, it’s time to get new and innovative ways to show women’s golf and the extraordinary talent that’s available.

Contextualising these great events and using players stories is an essential part of developing the game. Sure, the LPGA are doing the best they can with limited finances and resources, but in a time where golf broadcasting isn’t fantastic or on a par with other sports, the LPGA has a window of opportunity to be creative, especially with the incredible upcoming young talent.

Women’s golf right now is unpredictable, the styles are contrasting with each player. While a superstar, potentially Korda, would be nice, it would be great to see this crop developed and used to advertise the future of women’s golf. Fortunately, from an Irish perspective, with Leona Maguire and potentially Olivia Mehaffey, we will be right in the mix to forge our own future.

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