Leona Maguire admits she’s happy to sneak in under the radar and allow others to occupy the spotlight as she goes in search of a maiden Major victory at Thursday’s starting U.S. Women’s Open.
The Cavan star arrives to the record-breaking $10million event off the back of three straight missed cuts and while the prospect of a return to North Carolina for the Solheim star would’ve previously seen her pitted amongst the favourites, Maguire is happy to play second fiddle to those in the limelight wars as she focusses on playing her way into contention at Pine Needles.
“There’s no pressure on me this week,” Maguire said, having opted to give last week’s Match Play a miss to best prepare for what she describes as “the biggest event of the year”.
“I suppose all eyes are on Nelly Korda’s return and Jin Young Ko, then all the big American stars and obviously Annika [Sorenstam] is back this week too.
“I’m pretty happy to go about my business quite quietly, do what I have to do, and ultimately all I can do is play my own game and let all of them take centre stage for the most part.”
Maguire might be satisfied to let others hog the headlines for the preliminaries but she’ll be eager for her golf to do the talking once play gets underway on Thursday.
The 27-year old hit the ground running this season with a breakthrough win at the Drive On Championship in February and while she backed up that result with strong weeks in Singapore (T13) and Thailand (T12), Maguire’s most recent run of form has seen her miss out on three straight weekends, with a T39 result at the Chevron in March her best showing from her last six tournaments.
“Golf’s a funny game. It doesn’t really take much to make it go one way or the other,” Maguire said when asked if she could put her finger on why it hasn’t clicked of late.
“I’ve tightened up a few things with Shane [O’Grady – coach] over the last few weeks but it’s a U.S. Open so it’s going to take your best golf this week to do well around here.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure or expectation on myself.”
Still, it’s hard to temper expectations when you’re Leona Maguire, particularly when you’re returning to North Carolina where you enjoyed the most dominant period of your golfing life thus far. Maguire spent a record 135 weeks atop the world amateur rankings during her time at Duke University and although she only visited this week’s Pine Needles host venue once during her four years at college, the Cavan star will be hoping a return to a happy hunting ground could soon inspire better results.
“It’s nice to be back,” Maguire said having spent time in North Carolina over the past few weeks acclimatising to temperatures topping 36 degrees Celsius while catching up with old friends.
“We came here once to Pine Needles during college so it’s nice to be back somewhere familiar. I’m sure there’ll be a few Duke people coming down to support throughout the week so it will be nice having them around too.
“I only had a vague recollection of the course. It’s a Donald Ross design and there’s quite a few Donald Ross courses in North Carolina that we would’ve played in college so I’m used to run-offs around the greens and that sort of set-up.
“But it’s a U.S. Open, it’s a good test. It’s probably not your traditional U.S. Open test in that there’s not the really long rough and it’s not a beast of a golf course. But I think you’ll have to plot your way around, and definitely into the greens, on the greens and around them is where I think it will be won or lost this week.
“It will come down to who executes those shots as well as possible and ultimately who holes enough putts.”
There’s been massive momentum behind women’s golf in recent years but it was last January’s announcement that this week’s U.S. Women’s Open would see its prize fund nearly doubled from $5.5million to $10million that illustrated just how far the sport has come.
This week’s event, by some distance, boasts the largest prize fund in the history of women’s golf and although Maguire will be focussed on capturing the trophy and not the money when she tees off on Thursday, there’s no escaping how big an impact the pay-out could have for those occupying the podium places come Sunday evening in North Carolina.
“This is one that people had circled on the calendar as the biggest event all year,” Maguire admitted. “I mean, $10million for a ladies event would’ve been unheard of a few years ago.
“I think everybody is excited. Ultimately it’s going to be a life-changing event for whoever wins this week, and even for those in the top-5. That’s the reality of it.
“Everyone is here to win the trophy but the money on offer is also life-changing as it is. They’ve set the benchmark for the rest of the tournaments on the schedule which is nice to see.
“Evian upped their purse last week [$6.5m]. AIG have too [$6.8m] so there are some good things happening in the ladies game and it’s nice that I’m at a stage of my career where I’m a part of it.”
Thursday tee-times (Irish time)
- 6:14 p.m. – Stephanie Meadow, Annabell Fuller, Bronte Law
- 7:09 p.m. – Lizette Salas, Leona Maguire, Jeongeun Lee6