Women’s Golf in Ireland – A real cause for celebration

John Craven
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Leona Maguire poses with the Solheim Cup after winning in 2021 (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire)

John Craven

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When it comes to Ireland’s women golfers, the strides made in recent times can often be overlooked.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago that our wee Emerald Isle went unrepresented on the LPGA Tour. Now, courtesy of Leona Maguire, Ireland has its first ever winner on the top tour of women’s golf, while in Stephanie Meadow, we have two live contenders most weeks strutting their stuff at the very pinnacle of the women’s game.

It was Meadow who broke new ground when first winning an LPGA Tour card for Ireland in 2015; the Jordanstown star announcing herself to the world in incredible fashion the year prior when capturing a share of third place on her pro debut at the U.S. Women’s Open.

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Since then it’s been a constant battle to retain her playing privileges but she managed to do that much more comfortably in 2022, finishing 81st on the Race to CME Globe with the top-100 earning cards for this season.

The two-time Olympian will no doubt hope to kick on this term, and she’ll have no shortage of motivation as she looks to keep pace with her Irish teammate Maguire whose ceiling shows no limit.

The Cavan ace takes much of the spotlight these days and rightfully so, not only for winning that maiden title for Ireland but also since capturing the imagination of fans around the world in a record breaking rookie showing at the Solheim Cup in 2021.

Maguire spearheaded Catriona Matthew’s European side to victory on away soil through sheer talent and determination, and she continues to set a lofty mark for those coming in behind to aspire to; a mark very much of her own making with Maguire moving through the ranks of women’s golf in Ireland without such a blueprint to lean on.

“We’ve always had great sports people in Ireland,” Maguire says. “There’s always been people that have been trail blazers. Turning back the clock, there was no Irish female professional golfer. Sometimes you have to make those opportunities for yourself. If a door closes, find a window. Find a way.”

Given the success of Maguire and Meadow, two torchbearers for women’s golf in Ireland, it’s no great surprise to see a whole host of potential stars lining up to join them, both in the professional and amateur ranks.

Former Arizona State star Olivia Mehaffey has always looked the most obvious. Boasting a career 72.74 stroke average which puts her in the NCAA’s Top-25 on the all-time chartsMehaffey was only the third Sun Devil to be a four-time All American and turned to the pro ranks with much promise in 2021.

It hasn’t quite happened for Mehaffey just yet in paid company, however. The loss of her dad was a cruel blow and it has understandably had a massive impact on the Tandragee woman who retains bundles of ability, and some status on the Ladies European Tour to show the golf world what she’s got.

And much like Maguire and Meadow, Mehaffey is already inspiring the next generation, with Kirkistown Castle’s Beth Coulter following in her footsteps to Arizona State last year.

“I really looked up to Olivia. She was from home and I always really wanted to go there,” said Coulter, who’s settled in well with the Sun Devils; the number 7 recruit in America notching two top-20 finishes, with plenty more to come once she fully finds her feet.

No doubt she’ll look to emulate Mehaffey in more ways than one, not least by one day playing her way into the Augusta National Women’s Amateur where Mehaffey, Forrest Little’s Julie McCarthy and Castlewarden’s Wake Forest convert Lauren Walsh have all competed amongst the pines.

Twice capped Curtis Cup player Walsh is another destined for the pro ranks having already proven herself capable with a remarkable T42 finish on her Major debut at the AIG Women’s Open in 2021. Walsh remains Ireland’s highest ranked amateur – male or female – on the Women’s Amateur Golf Rankings in 45th place, having at one-time cracked the top-10.

It’s hoped the likes of Walsh will make it to the second instalment of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open for more pro exposure after the tournament triumphantly returned to the LET calendar after a 10-year hiatus in 2022. Ireland’s U.S. collegiate stars couldn’t make the mid-September date last year but with a new August 31-September 3 spot on the schedule, and tickets now on sale – wink, wink – Irish golf fans should get a great opportunity to witness the next generation of golfers hard at work in Co. Clare.

That should include Lurgan’s UCLA star Annabel Wilson, a U.S. Women’s Amateur semi-finalist last year and a former Curtis Cupper. And Elm Park’s Anna Foster, who’s been an ever-present in Auburn University’s line-up since making the move Stateside.

Irish internationals Aine Donegan and Sara Byrne, playing out of Louisiana State and Miami universities, have also been living the American Dream and will hope to feature in Dromoland. And no doubt they’ll all be looking to catch the eye of former Curtis Cup star Maria Dunne who Captains this year’s GB&I Vagliano Trophy side at Royal Dornach in Scotland this summer.

Opportunity abounds for this golden generation of women golfers in Ireland, and the conveyor belt is only getting started with the likes of Bridgestone Women’s Order of Merit winner Katie Poots, Roscommon starlet Olivia Costello, and Junior Vagliano ace Marina Joyce Moreno all waiting in the wings.

There’s so much to celebrate, and thanks to the return of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open, our golfing girls finally have a stage worthy of their talent. Make sure to get yourself to Dromoland this year to enjoy the show.

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