If any event on the LPGA Tour calendar signifies the growth that Leona Maguire has made in her career, it is the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, New Jersey.
Back in 2018, it was the Cavan woman’s first event after turning professional. After an amateur career that featured two Curtis Cup appearances and superlatives aplenty thrown at her for her incredible stay at Duke – with some even describing her as the best college golfer in the previous decade – she finished a more than creditable 15th.
This year, Maguire returns to Seaview as a Solheim Cup winner, 13th on the LPGA Tour’s Race to CME Globe standings and the World No.42. She’s made the cut in her last eight events, seven of which have been top-15 finishes, and has her sights set on finally chalking off that first win on the premier circuit. Her unbelievable exploits in Ohio now have her as one of the elite figures in the women’s game.
“Those three years have gone by pretty quick,” she laughs, before expanding on the various ways she feels different to that fresh-faced rookie in 2018.
“The big thing I’ll take from the Solheim Cup is feeling like I belong out here. I suppose when I was here back in 2018 I was still probably kind of in awe of a lot of the girls out here. They were the girls I watched on TV, I was still watching them on TV. A little bit of probably star struck up and down the range and on the putting green and all that. It’s nice to sort of be a little bit more comfortable out here three years on. A lot of familiar faces and the same players I play with week in and week out.
“My game was in really good shape leaving college. It was still quite consistent, but I would like to hope I have a few more shots in my bag than I had three years ago. Putting has improved and added a bit of extra yardage.”
She’ll have to get used to all the new attention, however. While technically still a rookie on the LPGA Tour – and, accordingly, the leading contender for Rookie of the Year honours – she has developed beyond that as a hot commodity on Tour having been Europe’s fist-pumping, birdie-making dynamo during the Solheim Cup. Even before that she was rapidly rising in fame after her ridiculous final record-breaking round at the Evian Championship in France.
Instead of her idolising others on the range, new faces on Tour will stop and stare at the Irish woman warming up in the bay next to them instead. People want to get to know Leona Maguire now, something she became keenly aware of when she returned to Ballyconnell for her homecoming from the Inverness Club.
“I think the response at home was not something I was expecting,” she admits. “I think the fact that so many people watched it that would not normally watch golf, and even when I was out practicing the past few weeks, I had a lot more people coming up. Usually I can just go practice, and every once in a while someone will come up and recognize me.
“There were a lot more people looking for pictures and wanting to talk about the Solheim Cup and things like that. Same when I went to see my coach, Shane, at his golf club. When I was leaving one of the days it took a while to get out of the car park because people were coming over and just so excited and wanted to tell me they watched and how proud they were and get a picture.
“I went back into my secondary school as well. Seeing everybody, it was seven years since I’d been back there. It’s not something I was expecting but, at the same time, it’s nice to sort of share that experience with everybody, especially seeing as we didn’t have all that support over in Inverness that we potentially could have.”
Picked up by her father Declan at the airport on her return, there was a quick stop at Castle Tara National School where he teaches to meet the kids who had prepared poems for her, before the actual homecoming event at her home club of Slieve Russell. Nearly the whole town turned out for it as the 26-year-old was driven around the surrounding area in a gold convertible.
“My 94-year-old grandmother was in the front waving to everybody. It was fun for me to see her enjoying it so much,” Maguire recalls with a smile.
“It’s been a quiet two years for her, so for her to see a lot of people she hadn’t seen in a while and everybody sort of congratulating and messaging her. She’s on Facebook, she had fun sort of seeing all the messages all around the world were coming from, everybody commenting on things. So that was probably one of the most special things for me.”
But as nice as it would be to relive her Solheim Cup glory indefinitely, life moves on. Maguire’s only focus now is pushing on and making the momentum from her week count by finishing the LPGA season strongly rather than let it fizzle out, and she recognises that her match play performances will quickly be forgotten about if she doesn’t back them up on her return to the grind of weekly events.
Galloway offers her a familiar venue to get back to the bread and butter, at least, but the next challenge is being mentally prepared for going back to what she needs to do in order to take the next step and move closer to that goal of lifting a trophy that is just for her.
“Nobody cares about the Solheim Cup when I tee it up on Friday morning, I still have to go out and play golf. You’re only as good as your next round,” maintains Maguire, who tees off alongside Ally Ewing and Jin Young Kyo at 5.55pm Irish time on Friday evening.
“I take the confidence from knowing I can compete with the best golfers in the world. You dream about those moments and you practice for those moments, and you don’t know how you are going to deal with that until you actually end up in that situation. Can you hole those putts when you need to? Can you pull off the shots when the moment is right?
“I was able to do that at the Solheim Cup, and I suppose it’s just a case of bringing that back to regular LPGA events week in and week out and taking all I can from being around so many great players, my teammates, Beany, vice captains. It was a big goal of mine to be in the Solheim Cup, but there is still a lot of golf to be checked off the list.
“I’d like to finish off the season as strong as I possibly can. The season has been going well so far. If the season ended today I would still be incredibly happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better season.
“We’ve got five events left, so I’ll try and put myself in contention in as many of them as I possibly can with that momentum from Solheim and off the back of the Majors, Evian and British Open and all those events. It would be sort of cherry on top to finish off the year with a win. If I do, great. If not, take all the experiences from this year and bring them into next year.
“I’ve never been one to worry about rankings or any of that sort of stuff. I’ll just keep sort of playing my golf, trying to do as well as I possibly can, and let Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year and all that sort of look after itself.”
Stephanie Meadow is also in action in New Jersey, teeing it up at 12.21pm Irish time alongside Jeongeun Lee and Azahara Munoz, intending on locking down her Tour card for next year.
The Jordanstown woman is currently 98th in the Race to CME Globe standings with five tournaments remaining before the Tour Championship, looking to break into the top-80 to retain the top flight playing rights for next year.