Growing up, Leona Maguire’s Irish role models were all men.
She had female role models, of course, name-checking Norwegian legend Suzann Pettersen as one of them, but due to a lack of leading women’s professionals from these shores around the turn of the 21st century, there were none closer to home to inspire her.
Maguire, along with sister Lisa, would go to the Irish Open every year with father Declan and marvel at the likes of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley competing on home soil. Like every other golfer across the world, Tiger Woods was also the gold standard when it came to the level you wanted to reach.
The saying goes, “If you can see it, you can be it” never really applied to the siblings. The closest they ever got was watching the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in 2011.
So it’s fair to say that, as she returns to Galgorm Castle and Massereene for the first time since the inaugural ISPS HANDA World Invitational in 2018, she has since blazed her own trail for Irish women’s golf since then.
“It’s big. It’s big to have a home event,” she says ahead of this week’s World Invitational, making reference to the fact that the Women’s Irish Open will be played at Dromoland Castle next month, too.
“I think you see with the Lionesses winning last week at Wembley, 89,000 people were there watching that, and that’s going to inspire a generation of young girls. I think when you see it on TV it’s one thing. When you see it in person it brings it to another level, whether it’s getting a picture or an autograph or a golf ball or whatever it is.
“I know I had posters and I had pictures on my wall as a kid for years when I met different athletes. I think it’s extra special when you get to see it there in person.”
She’s had first hand experience of the impact she’s having, discovering at the JP McManus Pro-Am that a young girl, instead of taking a saint’s name for her confirmation, had taken the name Leona. Becoming the first Irish winner on the LPGA Tour and the first Irish Solheim Cup player has made its mark.
Accordingly, there will be a large following for the Cavan woman when she tees it up in Co Antrim this week. Her hometown came out in droves for her homecoming last year after the Solheim Cup, and she laughs that they’re going to be flooding up the motorway this week too.
“It’s nice to feed off the energy of the crowd I suppose. Hopefully be plenty of people to support. Lots of the Irish guys playing this week. Steph (Meadow) and Livy (Olivia Mehaffey) are playing, too, so hopefully the crowds rally behind us and hopefully we can put on a good of display as golf for them,” she adds.
If she continues her form from the final round at Muirfield last weekend then that shouldn’t be a problem, the 27-year-old producing a stunning final round 66 to secure her best Major finish at the AIG Women’s Open, tied-fourth.
Speaking after her round, Maguire admitted she felt that was coming and she hopes that carries over into this week, even though it will be a much different challenge in Northern Ireland than it was in Scotland – although with the baking temperatures, the ground will be playing a lot harder than anticipated this week.
But even something as simple as having to shift mindset from ‘par is a good score’ to ‘I’ve got to make birdies’ is significant, and something that the Slieve Russell woman is very aware she will have to get right quickly if she wants to contend this week.
“The trickiest thing this week is maybe only seeing the courses once and then splitting the preparation between both courses being a little different,” she explains of the two-course approach, which is a fairly unique situation on the LPGA Tour.
“Probably adjusting as well to the speed of the greens as well. I saw Massereene yesterday and won’t see it again until Friday, so it may change a little bit between now and then. Just be trying to adjust as quickly as possible.
“I mean, ultimately any time you played a golf course you’re trying to shoot as low a score as possible. I mean, even at Muirfield last week there was chances out there. You had to take them where you got them, and it’s no different really this week.
“I think the scoring will be better at Galgorm. I think Massereene is quite short. They’ve grown up the rough, and same probably here. I think it’s very much you’ll make your score at Galgorm, keep it tight around Massereene, and try to go low on Galgorm on the weekend then.”
And, of course, sending all those Cavan fans back down the road with a smile on their face after a home win would be the perfect way to finish the week for Maguire. She’s the highest ranked player in the field – now up to 17th after her exploits at Muirfield – so naturally she has been made the favourite, but she’s not paying attention to that noise.
“It would be very special. Any time you get to win on the LPGA is a cool thing. It’s very hard to win on the LPGA,” she points out.
“The standard every week… you have to do a lot of things right. It’s not just you that affects that, so ultimately you’re just trying to play as well as you can. And if that’s enough at the end of week it is; if not, still going to be a fantastic week here.
“I’m looking forward to it.”