Lifelong coach O’Grady always knew Leona was destined for the top

Ronan MacNamara
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Leona with caddie Dermot Byrne and coach Shane O'Grady

“Yeah.”

Shane O’Grady’s response when asked did he always see Leona Maguire developing and blossoming into the world class player she is today. 

Skipping through the front nine in Killeen Castle in just 29 strokes would be a great indicator!

“I have been in her company since she was very young and she has been doing incredible things. I remember a practice round in Killeen Castle shooting 29 off the men’s tees for the front nine, you don’t see that too often! I know it’s only practice but when you’re in that company you think that it’s special,” said O’Grady who has been casting an eye on proceedings at the KPMG Women’s Irish Open. 

O’Grady has been Maguire’s lifelong coach since taking herself and Lisa into his stable in Blackbush Golf Club Dunshaughlin when the twins were just eleven years of age. 

Sixteen years on and he has been by the side of the Cavan native as she progressed through the amateur ranks, holding the world number one spot for three years before turning professional, earning her LPGA Tour card, making her Solheim Cup debut and becoming the first Irish winner on the LPGA Tour. 

It was a journey that many knew she was destined for but took slightly longer than anticipated. However, O’Grady and Maguire always stuck to the process they had laid out since she was eleven and he had no doubt the 27-year-old would strike when the time was right. 

“I think it’s something that you’ll hear Leona talking about, every stage since she was eleven there was a process of what we wanted to do in every aspect of the game to get to that level and the foundations are there that if we get to the top you’re not having to find when you get there, it’s all about fine tuning so that technique has been put in since she was eleven or twelve years of age. 

“Repetition. It’s consistency of shot, every aspect is strong that’s what she’s always worked on. No strength or weakness, everything is the same. Everything has to be strong to compete at that level, the LPGA level is like a super league, they’re so good we don’t see enough of it on TV but you go to an event and they are unbelievably good. To be 30th on the money list in America is incredible. 

“You can’t get to that level until you reach the next level, you need to win at each level and go from there to there. Golf is a confidence game, belief systems. It’s very hard to go from here to there and really believe it but if you win at every level deep down you will believe you belong there.” 

Shane with Leona at the Curtis Cup

Maguire’s talent has been unquestionable, but in order to make it in elite sport one must have a massive work ethic and that is where she sets herself above the rest, she has been the last person to leave the driving range every night this week, despite being the toast of the town in Dromoland Castle she hasn’t let home comforts hamper her preparations. 

It’s what O’Grady admires most about her, even during the height of the pandemic the pair were constantly on video calls tinkering with her swing while she was competing Stateside. Now he often travels across the Atlantic to be by her side while she pays regular visits to Blackbush upon her return home. 

“It’s been fascinating watching her. She’s so down the middle, everything is so simple, she has a work ethic that not many people have. She’s the most sought after person here this week but she’ll be the last person to leave the practice areas. She was the last person leaving the range here last night. You have to have that work ethic and she loves that, she wants to do that. She wants to do the extra mile and she enjoys doing that. 

“The lines of the swing, understanding it, she grew, the swing evolved into that. It was put into her when she was young and she has developed it. It’s amazing we go back to old little routines that she would have done as a youngster but obviously she has got stronger and strength and conditioning have made her much stronger. 

“The game has evolved and changed since she went to college. LPGA events were 6,300 yard events now they are 6,700 or 6,800, it’s a different game so in college her length was long enough at that stage but when she came out on tour golf courses were a little bit longer so she had to adapt to that and she has, she is very long,” O’Grady said of Maguire who has added approximately fifteen yards of length off the tee since 2020 and has become one of the best iron players in the ladies game. 

“Strength and conditioning doesn’t affect what she’s already done. A lot of people go to S&C and they develop themselves physically but they lose other aspects, they lose their touch and feel because they go so gung-ho at it so they lose that balance. 

“Joe O’Connor has a great programme for her so she has gradually got stronger and stronger, being on the road is tough you have to be strong aerobically.” 

Maguire announced herself on the world stage twelve months ago with a record-breaking performance as a rookie in the Solheim Cup as she inspired Europe to just their second-ever win on US soil.  

Five months later she was a maiden LPGA Tour winner and a regular in the world’s top-20 with three top-10s in major championships and the next rung on the ladder she has been climbing since she was eleven is to push further up the rankings and earn more silverware. 

Leona Maguire (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

“To get from 200th in the money list into the top-15 is great and the next challenge to get up the ladder from 15 is even more difficult. So it’s getting the fine margins and getting herself every opportunity to win more tournaments and she’s brilliant at that. If she keeps putting herself there, she will win.” 

Maguire made her first foray into the professional game as a sprightly and eager fifteen-year-old alongside her sister Lisa at Killeen Castle. The pair would have had their golfing role models, Tiger, Padraig, Laura Davies, Suzanne Pettersen and the likes but there was nobody on their doorstep for them to aspire to.  

Now Leona is on the pedestal as a player several young amateurs in the field will try and emulate with a championship to dream of playing in. None more so than 14-year-old Olivia Costello of Roscommon who is another young starlet on O’Grady’s conveyor belt of talent making her Irish Open debut this week. 

“Yeah Leona was so young then, herself and Lisa. Lisa actually did very well in that tournament, she was in contention going into the last day. So it’s been some ten years so it’s lovely to see the Irish Open back, for ladies golf in Ireland it’s great. 

“I’ve coached Olivia since she was 8 or 9. I have Lauren Walsh in America who would love to be here this week.  

“It’s great to have Leona as a role model. Everything is Leona this, Leona that. They need role models. It’s great for the likes of Katie Poots, Aideen Walsh, Kate Lanigan, it’s great to see the pros and where they’re at, they wouldn’t have seen that for ten years. 

“It’s great that she’s here and it raises the profile of the tournament.” 

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