Eleven years ago, a bushy haired baby-faced Rory McIlroy annihilated all before him as he romped to his maiden major title at the 2011 US Open in Congressional and those memories will be fresh in Irish golf fans minds as Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow go in search of an Irish double at Congressional’s Blue Course.
Nelly Korda’s return from injury is almost as if she was never away. She was part of a three-way playoff at the Meijer Classic and she is back to defend her title she won so brilliantly last year.
There will be certain elements that evoke memories of eleven years previous but this golf course has undergone a significant overhaul by Andrew Green in 2020 with less trees and more elevation changes awaiting the players.
The women’s game is also on a significant upward trajectory and that has been reflected in the prize purse being doubled to £9 million this week.
Maguire had been struggling after four missed cuts in five starts but a top-10 in the Women’s US Open has clicked her back into gear and while Sunday’s near-miss at the Meijer Classic will have stung, she carded a brilliant 65 to make up a seven shot deficit before Jennifer Kupcho won in a playoff.
The Cavan native is a world class player, already a Solheim Cup legend and has been impressive in the majors with a T-15 finish in last year’s PGA Championship and she followed it with a T-6 at Evian and T-13 at the AIG Women’s Open.
It would be fitting if she could make her breakthrough to the top level at the site of McIlroy’s first major triumph.
“Last year was a big confidence booster,” said Maguire. “Meijer last year was the turning point for me, and it was it nice to go back there with those good memories and almost outdo them, I suppose, this year. U.S. Open as well, getting my first Top Ten in it was a big one. More of the same this week, hopefully.”
The course at Congressional will play longer than the US Open or last week’s Meijer Classic and despite not being one of the longer hitters on the LPGA Tour, Maguire feels it will play to her strengths.
“I think into the greens there’s going to be a lot of woods and a lot of hybrids, which is a strength of my game. Yeah, I don’t mind having a few 9-woods into the greens this week,” said Maguire whose caddy Dermot Byrne was the bagman for Shane Lowry here in 2011.
“Yeah, he was here with Shane in 2011. It’s changed a bit. He has been a bit surprised by some of the holes. He said it was a lot more tree-lined back then.”
The world number 17 can vaguely remember McIlroy’s performance but she hopes she can put herself in a position to create her own memories this week.
“Yeah, I mean, I was watching on TV. I still remember him. He kind of blew the field away that week, so I don’t know if anybody is going to do that this week, but, yeah, it would be nice to be coming down 18 with a few shot lead like he had, but yeah, I mean, he obviously was on a very hot streak at that point. Really the only part of the golf course I remember was 18.
“I know it’s obviously been redesigned, but yeah, I mean, that was a pretty cool week for him. Hopefully I can do something similar.”
Jordanstown native Meadow has had a very consistent season and at times has outperformed Maguire and she can hopefully continue her good year despite two missed cuts on the bounce.
Before that run she had only missed two cuts and registered a top-10 finish in what had been a promising season.
The 30-year-old has never made the cut in her six previous appearances in the KPMG PGA Championship but records are made to be broken.
After she maintained her full playing privileges in dramatic circumstances on the final day of the regular LPGA Tour season last year she is in the relative comfort of 72nd in the Race to CME Globe Rankings.
Meadow tees off alongside Emma Talley and Jasmine Suwannapura while Maguire has been grouped with Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Ryan O’Toole.