Leona Maguire: the 26-year-old who shocked the golf world as unbeaten Solheim Cup rookie

250

Earlier than Friday’s first tee shot, she was only a Solheim rookie hoping to make her mark on the event.

By Monday afternoon, she was being touted as the following massive factor in golf.

Maguire had performed an important function in Europe’s 15-13 win over the US on the Solheim Cup — golf’s biennial event, which pits the very best skilled ladies’s golfers from Europe and the US in opposition to one another.

On her debut look in what many see as the top of the game, the primary Irishwoman ever to play within the occasion was each undefeated and likewise Europe’s high scorer with four-and-a-half factors.

Such was Maguire’s dominance on the course, US captain Pat Hurst may solely concede to her greatness.

“She is the one we’re going to need to concern for a very long time,” Hurst stated.

Listening to one thing like that from a “legend” of the sport in Hurst is a “humbling” expertise for Maguire, and he or she admits she’s already centered on qualifying for the 2023 version of the event in Spain.

Upon her arrival again in Eire after the Solheim Cup in September, Maguire acquired a hero’s welcome, specifically, in her hometown of Cavan.

Followers lined the streets waving Irish flags, and a hearth engine with an Irish flag on the entrance led the convoy of automobiles whereas Maguire — from the again of a convertible BMW with the license plate “LEONA” — confirmed her appreciation to those that had come out to cheer and welcome her dwelling.

“It has been an extended journey and I could not have achieved it with out the help of everybody right here in the local people,” stated Maguire, after the exhilarating trip via her hometown had ended.

And after having a while to mirror on her achievements in Ohio and the reception she bought upon her return, the 26-year-old described all of it as “unbelievable.”

“I wasn’t anticipating something type of near that. We knew we had unbelievable help at dwelling, cheering us on,” Maguire instructed CNN Sport. “However to see that was actually particular; it was a particular factor for me to be part of.

“Irish followers are recognized for being a few of the greatest on the planet, and I actually felt that help as quickly as I bought dwelling. And so many individuals congratulated me, messaging me. Lots of people that by no means usually would watch golf appeared to tune in to the Solheim Cup and simply to see the type of pleasure and the excitement round the place I am from and across the complete nation about golf and girls’s sport, I feel was very nice.

“And I suppose it has been a tricky two years for lots of people and to see individuals type of smile once more and searching ahead to one thing and one thing to get pleasure from is very nice for them.”

READ: ‘Celeb’ golf coach Federico Alba reveals hidden lifetime of Sicily
Maguire is introduced to the crowd at halftime of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Mayo and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin.

Representing

The inexperienced programs of Eire are the place Maguire discovered her love for the sport, but when issues had turned out in a different way, it may’ve been the blue swimming pools the place she would have made her identify.

Aged roughly 10, Maguire was given the selection between specializing in golf or a promising swimming profession. She determined in opposition to swimming as a result of she knew she “was by no means going to be a six-foot swimmer” and he or she was additionally taking to golf fairly rapidly.

Between herself and her twin sister, Lisa — who’s 15 minutes older — they each shot onto {the golfing} scene. In reality, as 10-year-olds, Leona completed runner-up behind Lisa on the Younger Masters Golf Junior Collection at La Manga in Spain in 2005.

Only a yr later, the Maguire twins have been chosen to carry the Ryder Cup on stage through the closing ceremony of the 2006 Ryder Cup on the Okay Membership in Eire as Europe celebrated a memorable victory.

As her {golfing} profession blossomed, she rose via the ladies’s newbie golf rankings, hitting the highest spot for a complete of 135 weeks, the longest keep at no. 1 in historical past.

She and her sister each represented Europe in two Junior Solheim Cups in 2009 and 2011, though the US gained on each events.

Maguire and her sister, Lisa, walk up a fairway together during the foursomes at the 2011 Junior Solheim Cup at Knightsbrook Hotel and Golf Resort on September 20, 2011 in Trim, Ireland.

Nevertheless, whereas numerous male Irish gamers have represented Europe’s Ryder Cup — similar to Shane Lowry this yr — Maguire was thrilled to turn into the primary Irishwoman to seem within the Solheim Cup, one thing she says she has “dreamt about for a very long time.”

“Hopefully, it is impressed a youthful era of Irish golfers to aspire to at some point be within the Solheim Cup or no matter sport there’s,” she stated.

“I feel anytime you are the primary to do something, break these glass ceilings is one thing particular. It isn’t one thing I in all probability will dwell on an excessive amount of proper now. However after I look again in possibly 20, 30 years after my profession is throughout, it is undoubtedly going to be a spotlight.

“It was probably the greatest weeks of my life, for certain. And simply the help from again dwelling, I do know there’s lots of people type of speaking about actually wanting an Irish Open again and if what I did on the Solheim Cup encourages another little lady to play golf, then that is unbelievable.”

Since turning skilled in the summertime of 2018, Maguire has gone from power to power, claiming her first two professional wins a yr afterward the Symetra Tour, the developmental tour of the Women Skilled Golf Affiliation (LPGA) Tour.

Her outcomes on the majors additionally reached a career-best in 2021, ending tied-sixth on the Evian Championship in July, whereas ending within the top-20 at each the Ladies’s British Open and the Ladies’s PGA Championship.

READ: The ‘best all-sport athlete’ who helped revolutionize ladies’s golf
Maguire walks down the first hole with her caddie during the final day of the Women's Open at Carnoustie Golf Links.

Days to recollect

A Solheim rookie, her debut look could not have are available in a extra daunting setting.

Touring to play within the US in entrance of that dwelling crowd is at all times intimidating, however because of Covid-19 journey restrictions, even fewer European followers may make it to Ohio, which means practically 100% followers in attendance have been from the US.

Nevertheless, Maguire admits her greenness may’ve performed into her favor in that occasion. “I suppose it is like one thing I’ve by no means skilled earlier than,” she stated.

“Perhaps, it was a superb factor that I had no thought what to anticipate, that I have never type of seen what it is wish to play a Solheim Cup in Europe and have all of the help. You are not used to individuals cheering while you miss a putt or miss fairways. However to be truthful for essentially the most half, the crowds are very respectable. You would inform they have been actual golf followers.”

And he or she was thrown into the deep finish proper from the beginning, being paired with Mel Reid, a veteran of three earlier Solheim Cups, in opposition to world No. 1 Nelly Korda and her sister Jessica in Saturday morning’s foursomes.

The 2 confirmed no indicators of nerves, beating the sisters to get Europe off to an ideal begin and quiet the crowds.

For 3 of her matches on Saturday and Sunday, Maguire was paired with Reid. Though they “hadn’t actually spent any time collectively or performed collectively earlier than that,” it labored a deal with for Maguire and her European group because the pair gained two-and-a-half factors from a attainable three collectively.

“It simply, it felt proper, just about right away. We felt very snug with one another. I feel our video games actually complement one another. Mel has a whole lot of expertise underneath her belt, and he or she went out of her method to make it possible for I used to be as snug as I may very well be on the golf course. And we simply gelled rather well collectively, and I actually could not have requested for a greater associate for my first Solheim Cup.”

After beating the Kordas in her opening match, Maguire and Georgia Corridor beat Yealimi Noh and Brittany Altomare in Saturday afternoon’s fourballs.

Maguire plays her shot from the seventh tee during a foursomes match on day two of the Solheim Cup.

On Sunday, she claimed one other one-and-a-half factors over the 2 classes. However even Maguire was shocked at what number of instances she was being chosen to exit and play.

“There’s a lot happening, there’s so many issues happening that week. You are driving on adrenaline, you are simply centered on getting that one level, no matter match you are in and you do not have time to actually take into consideration the match that is simply gone or a possible match arising.

Go to CNN.com/sport for extra information, options, and movies

“I did not count on to be enjoying that (Sunday) afternoon, that second fourball match and Suzanne (Pettersen) got here as much as me and Mel on I feel it was on the 13th gap and stated: ‘You two are going once more.’ And so I sort of needed to type of end that match off and mentally put together to go once more.

“So in the end, as a rookie, I by no means anticipated to be enjoying 5 matches, not in 1,000,000 years. And it was an honor that Beanie (Catriona Matthew) trusted me that a lot to place me out in 5 video games, and I used to be taking it one match at a time realizing that doubtlessly that would have been my final match.”

She claimed a key level in her singles match to interrupt the all-time rookie factors report in both the Solheim Cup or the Ryder Cup and to make sure that she bought the flight again to Eire as a “Solheim Cup winner.”

Not dangerous for a rookie.