The talent and potential of Leona Maguire would have been no secret to those who knew her growing up but for an Irish golfing audience – particularly a female one – we didn’t have a prominent force in the women’s game to pin our hopes on.
The Cavan native, alongside her sister Lisa who was also a burgeoning young amateur at the time, made their first foray into the professional game when teeing it up as sprightly young 15-year-olds at the 2010 edition of the Women’s Irish Open.
The Maguire twins also appeared in the latest edition back in 2012 at Killeen Castle where Catriona Matthew held off fellow European Solheim Cup veteran Suzann Pettersen before the event went on a ten-year hiatus.
The Women’s Irish Open has had distinguished fields in the past but in truth, it is an event that has never built on the potential it has. To only have had one edition since the 2011 Solheim Cup in Killeen Castle is an opportunity missed to see the championship develop into a staple of the ladies game.
Here we are a decade later hoping to build the tournament up from scratch again.
The KPMG Women’s Irish Open has a chequered history. Various periods of cancellation preventing a serious growth in an event which boasts an illustrious roll of honour list including Matthew, Pettersen, Sophie Gustafson and Dame Laura Davies who shot a record twenty-five-under-par en route to a whopping sixteen shot win in 1995 at St Margaret’s.
The 2012 edition in Co. Meath drew a star-studded field including Matthew, Pettersen, major champion Pernilla Lindberg, experienced campaigners like Caroline Masson and Carlota Ciganda while young starlets at the time Charley Hull and Jodi Ewart-Shadoff have become top players on the LPGA Tour in recent years.
Ten years on, the Dromoland Castle field might not be at those heights just yet but that doesn’t make it any less appealing, and there is hope that if proper funding and backing is given, the event can attract some stellar European names and some LPGA talent in the future.
Irish golf needs strong championships on both the Men’s and Ladies European Tours given the success our golfers have enjoyed particularly over the last fifteen years.
Maguire, of course, is the headline act this week and the favourite for the €400,000 prize fund – which is healthy for LET standards.
The world number sixteen isn’t the only Irish professional with Bangor’s Victoria Craig looking to bounce back from a niggling injury which forced her to withdraw from a LET event recently.
Scotland’s Matthew returns for a very belated defence of the title she won a decade ago and she will get a warm welcome from the Clare faithful having led a Maguire inspired Europe to just a second-ever Solheim Cup title on US soil twelve months ago.
Maguire’s main threat to a maiden home Irish Open winner will come from 23-year-old Linn Grant who raised eyebrows in her native Sweden when she won the Volvo Scandinavian Mixed this year, becoming the first female winner on the DP World Tour.
The Swede is certainly a player of pedigree with four Ladies European Tour wins under her belt and an eighth-place finish at this year’s Evian Championship.
2019 Solheim Cup hero Anne Van Dam has fallen upon hard times in recent years but her name still adds some flavour to proceedings as does European veteran Caroline Hedwall who has become a cult hero among Solheim Cup fans even if she is in her swansong years.
As far as established names go, that is pretty much it with the exception of some LET stalwarts like Becky Morgan, Becky Brewerton, Christine Wolf, Meghan MacLaren and Olivia Cowan etc.
Scottish starlet Louise Duncan is taking the first steps in her fledgling professional career and she is backed to reach the heights of Leona Maguire so she is certainly worth a watch this week.
The Irish interest doesn’t stop at Maguire and Craig with a host of young amateurs in the Dromoland field, looking to emulate their hero and follow in Maguire’s footsteps.
Local schoolteacher and member of Dromoland Castle, Aideen Walsh is the headline amateur act and she is joined by Kate Lanigan (The Hermitage), Katie Poots (Knock), Rebekah Gardner (Clandeboye), Marina Joyce Moreno (Portrush) and 14-year-old Olivia Costello (Roscommon).
There might be no Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey this year but with sufficient and adequate support from the powers that be and spearheaded by Maguire, this event has serious potential. Irish women’s golf at amateur level is in a great place and seeing their peers tee it up with Maguire and some star European names would give huge inspiration to the next generation of talent coming through.
For a decade these girls have had nothing to really strive for as a benchmark, the dream should be to play and win the Irish Open.
We have a great event just a few hours up the road in Galgorm Castle at the ISPS Handa World Invitational where the likes of Maja Stark, Georgia Hall, Emily Kristine Pedersen, Ryann O’Toole, Jennifer Kupcho, Charley Hull, Atthaya Thittikul, Mina Harigae and Yealimi Noh have all teed it up in the first two editions of the tournament.
That event is co-sanctioned by the LET and LPGA so perhaps that is where the secure future of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open lies. We have the players, we have the crowds and we have the golf courses to really put on a showcase event for ladies golf.