Leona Maguire tees up at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with the old adage – a good start is half the battle – ringing in her ears.
The 25-year old is hoping to hit the ground running on Thursday as she looks to put herself into contention over the weekend at the year’s third Major in Pennsylvania.
Maguire arrived at Aronimink Golf Club off the back of her career-best Major finish last month where she tied-18th at the ANA Inspiration.
Indeed, since women’s golf restarted in August, the Cavan professional has been the model of consistency, banking top-30 finishes most recently at the Cambria Portland Classic and the ShopRite Classic courtesy of strong weekend showings at both events.
It’s a run of form that’s pleased Maguire who’s now identified a fast start as key in order to ensure she’s not playing catch-up over the weekend at Aronimink.
“After having such a long break it was hard to know what to expect,” said Maguire ahead of Thursday’s opener.
“It took me a few events to get settled back in but the last few weeks have been good. I’ve been giving myself lots of chances and I’ve had a few nice weekends as well which always helps.
“I’ve been getting better as I go along in tournaments which is nice but I need to work out those first couple of days, get myself a little higher up on the leaderboard and put myself in position going into the weekend.”
Never was this more evident than at the ANA last month where Maguire fought her way to rounds of 73 and 72 over the first two days before catapulting herself up the leaderboard with rounds of 68 and 69 over the weekend.
“Again on the weekend I played really nice,” she reflected. “I think I only had one bogey, shot 7-under on the weekend around that golf course and again, hit it really well.
“The rough was very penal that week but I managed my way around. It was a long golf course so I really had to think my way around it which is never a bad thing – I quite like it when it’s like that.”
Lucky for Maguire then that this week at Aronimink should provide much the same test. A typical Donald Ross design – the type of course that she’s no stranger to from her days as the world’s top amateur at Duke University – the 6,831 yard beast will demand every facet of a would-be champion’s game is in working order from the first tee shot to the final putt.
‘It’s long, is the general consensus,” Maguire said after her first run around on Tuesday.
“Plenty of woods into greens, lots of hybrids and 9 woods and 6 woods and stuff like that but it’s a great course in fantastic shape.
“You could count on one hand the amount of wedges and short irons you’re hitting into holes. There are only two par-5s so it’s definitely a premium on accuracy into greens, they’re big and sloping and long putting will be key.
“There isn’t an insane amount of birdie chances but at the same time, if you’re accurate with your approach play you can give yourself opportunities, while the rough maybe isn’t as penal as Hazeltine was last year.”
The fact that Maguire can now call on past experiences, enabling her to compare and contrast Major venues and determine how she approaches them is a gift that’s come with time.
The Major stage appeared to be the only one she was struggling with prior to that tied-18th at the ANA but with the confidence of that result coupled with more Major starts this year, Maguire believes she’s starting to figure out how to get the most out of her game on these big weeks where rewards are never greater.
“I think there’s a knack to playing Major setups,” she says. “They’re generally long and pins are hard to get at and it’s about being patient and taking your chances when you get them, and as importantly, knowing which holes that a par or bogey isn’t a bad score.
“Keeping those big numbers off the cards is a big thing at Majors. I didn’t do that at Troon,” she says of a missed cut at the Women’s Open. “I didn’t actually play too bad at Troon – I actually played quite well apart from three holes – but I guess you learn all that through experience.
“With the ANA, you’re going back to Mission Hills every year so you’re able to pick up things, trends that you see and that, but it’s more about getting used to the golf courses and the environment of a Major week and again, patience! You can’t really chase it at a Major venue.”
In the bigger picture, far from chasing, Maguire’s progress has been on a steady upward trajectory. Her star has risen to 159 in the Rolex Rankings and to 47th on the Race to CME Globe.
With her every step of the way in her professional journey so far has been this week’s title sponsor, KPMG, and although Maguire feels no extra pressure representing the company on a Major stage, their involvement in renewals like this one makes her even more proud of that association.
“KPMG do such a good job – it’s one of the best events we play and always on one of the top golf courses,” Maguire says.
“Someone asked me today, ‘is it that different without fans, would you know it’s still a Major?’ I think you definitely would. KPMG roll out all the extras. Hospitality is a big thing for them, the Cadillac courtesy cars are running around this week.
“They’re putting on breakfast, lunch and dinner this week which doesn’t happen at any other Tour event, and it’s probably the best food all year, too! And they’re even picking up our entry fees this year which is a massive thing, especially given how professional schedules have been impacted this season.
“KPMG always go that extra mile. They’re a big support of women in sport. They’re involved in the 20×20 campaign at home, Women in Business over here. They show their support – they don’t just talk about it – they back it up with their actions and for me it’s just great to be associated with a company that prides itself on those values.”
Leona Maguire gets her Championship bid underway today at 12.54pm (Irish time)