Like last year, Leona Maguire has been the centre of attention in the pre-tournament build up for the KPMG Women’s Irish Open and she will carry the bulk of the crowd with her for at least the first two days with the hope that she can produce another weekend charge and create a fever pitch buzz around Dromoland Castle.
Very much the pied piper, Maguire sucked in the home fans last year and she hopes to do so again having learned how to cope with being the star attraction on home soil as she chases her maiden win in Europe.
The Cavan star who is the heavy favourite to win the €400,000 event is used to high pressure situations having won twice on the LPGA Tour and produced a record breaking performance as a rookie at the last Solheim Cup. However, carrying home hopes on home soil is different gravy.
“It’s one of those things, it’s always special to come home and it will be the same for the lads playing at The K Club next week,” said Maguire. “You try to do as well as you possibly can. It’s a busy week for me, there’s a lot of demands on my time and you’re trying to give everybody as much time as you can and still prepare.
In 2007 at the Old Adare Manor, Pádraig Harrington ended a 25-year wait for a home Irish Open winner and since then only Shane Lowry (2009) and Rory McIlroy (2016) have etched Irish names onto the trophy. An Irishwoman has never won the KPMG Women’s Irish Open and while Maguire is aware of the challenge, she knows a lot of things have to go her way on a week that is anything but normal.
Last year the likes of teenage talents Olivia Costello and Rebekah Gardner were lining the fairways after their rounds just to catch a glimpse of their idol and this year will surely be no different with seven Irish amateurs competing with Maguire but also looking to her for inspiration.
Irish Close champion Sara Byrne (Douglas), Bridgestone Order of Merit leader Emma Fleming (Elm Park) and Beth Coulter (Kirkistown Castle) are making their debuts in the event while Costello (Roscommon) and Kate Lanigan (Hermitage) and local favourite AIdeen Walsh (Lahinch) are back for a second bite of the cherry.
US Women’s Open star Aine Donegan will be making her second professional start and she will have no shortage of support as she tees up alongside Maguire and defending champion Klara Spilková.