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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Major test ahead for Irish trio at AIG Women’s Open

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Ireland will have three representatives at the first Major of the LET & LPGA season, the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon as a talented field featuring Major champions, Solheim Cup stars and home favourites vie for the title.

Leona Maguire, fresh off her top-20 placing at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open will no doubt be looking to improve and she will be joined by Stephanie Meadow and amateur Olivia Mehaffey.

Meadow, is coming into the tournament off the back of solid performances at the LPGA Drive-On Championship (T40) and the Marathon Classic (T20) and in any other year Olivia Mehaffey would have already turned professional but the global pandemic has put that move on hold for the moment.

‘Initially it was very disappointing but I’m now looking at it as an extra year where I have the opportunity to represent my college and Ireland,” said Mehaffey who this week competes in her fourth Major having previously competed at the 2019 US Open and two previous AIG Women’s Opens.

“I think I felt worse last year when I missed the summer season due to injury as it was sort of my own doing, this year everyone is in the same situation so it’s easier to take.

“Every time I’ve been able to tee it up with the Pro’s I think I’ve learned a great deal from their game and what it takes to be at the top.

“You learn a lot but I feel now I’m at the stage where I’ve played in a number and have that experience so I’m not just going to make up the numbers I really want to go and compete,” she added.

Contested over the famous Ayrshire links which boasts nine Open Championships among its many hosting credits, 144 players representing 32 countries will compete for the first women’s Major of the year.  The event will be played without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic but television pictures will be broadcast globally to more than 11 million fans as the international field seek to emulate last year’s champion, Hinako Shibuno.

The Japanese player, who enjoyed a fairy-tale win at Woburn having never previously played a tournament outside of her homeland, will look to quickly bounce back from her missed cut at last week’s Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance where Stacy Lewis emerged victorious on Sunday after a four-way play-off.

The 2013 Women’s Open champion is among a group of some 40 Americans chasing more success on the west coast this week, including world number two Danielle Kang and world number three Nelly Korda.

With the forecast for strong winds and rain, home players will hope to use that to their advantage. The 2018 champion, Georgia Hall, will seek to rekindle her love for the event, with the 24-year-old one of 13 English players in the field.

Hall said, “It’s lovely coming to an event knowing that you’ve won it and done the job in a Women’s Open, my home kind of event. I look forward to this more than any other throughout the year.

“It’s always very special to see all the massive boards everywhere and it definitely feels like a Major.”

The R&A Women and Girls’ Golf ambassador added; “I think it’s an amazing venue at Royal Troon. I love links golf. I only bring the 3-iron out once a year, and this is the week, so I can’t wait. I’ve heard it’s going to be windy, so it’s going to play extremely tough.”

In the absence of a qualifying tournament, 22 qualifiers representing 12 countries secured their place at The Renaissance last week for the AIG Women’s Open, including Scottish hopefuls Kylie Henry and Michele Thomson.

David Rickman, The R&A’s Executive Director – Governance and Chief Referee at the AIG Women’s Open, said, “It is a very impressive international field and we are delighted so many players have travelled so far to join us.

“Royal Troon is one of our classic links courses, presented in wonderful condition. Certainly, the forecast looks as though it is going to give a real links challenge where the elements are likely to play a significant part in proceedings.”

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