I remember it well, it was 2008. I had been asked by the then ILGU, (Irish Ladies Golf Union) to host a mentoring session for a group of aspiring girl amateur golfers when I was the promoter of the AIB Ladies Irish Open at Portmarnock Links. Among that group were the Maguire sisters, Lisa & Leona.
Towards the end of my session with them I threw the question out to each one of them, ‘where do you see yourselves in 10 years’ time’? The answers were varied; ‘I will be playing Amateur golf for Ireland’, ‘I will be playing on the Ladies European Tour’, I will be enjoying Amateur golf’ etc.
The answer I never forgot was spoken with soft determination, ‘I will be playing on the LPGA Tour’. It came from Leona Maguire. The twins were 14 at the time! They were not fully grown yet and were hitting the ball about 30 yards behind the professionals in the field.
We had invited some of the world’s leading players as part of the build-up to hosting the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle. In subsequent years we invited the two sisters to play in the event as part of their development.
That first year I paired the twins separately with Suzann Pettersen and the legend Laura Davies in the first two rounds. Threw them in the deep end. Both were unfazed and went about their task playing their own game with focus and determination and both were competitive with their famous playing partners. All credit to the Irish Government at the time for supporting Women’s golf well ahead of the curve.
As time went on, it was Leona that started to set herself apart from her sister playing for Duke University in the USA and becoming the number one Amateur in the game for 135 weeks. I have always maintained that the US College system is the best training ground for anyone who wants to make it ‘on tour’. It is there you learn to play week-in and week-out and you are judged by your scoring average, not how well you strike the ball or how long you hit. My father used to always say to me, “beat everyone around you in each step you take and then move on to the next level”. That is what Leona did.
Her career path and approach reminds me of Padraig Harrington. In my opinion, Padraig has the best elite high performance model in the game. He is not the most talented but it was his relentless, passionate, obsessive pursuit of set goals over the years that made him a three-time Major winner.
Leona, with that giant step last weekend winning her first event on the LPGA Tour will continue to improve and can become the best player in all of Women’s golf. She has everything she needs to achieve this. She is modest, humble, respectful, determined and has a great team behind her with her parents Declan and Breda, her sister Lisa on her management team and an excellent coach from the beginning, Shane O’Grady.
Ireland is lucky to have Leona as an ideal role model for all the young girls that now look to follow in her footsteps.
Onwards and upwards, Leona. Well done!