Leona Maguire – Leading from the front

Mark McGowan

Leona Maguire (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

After her exploits at Inverness, Leona Maguire will be one of Suzann Pettersen’s most potent weapons when they welcome a star-studded United States side to Finca Cortesin.

Solheim Cup debuts don’t come any better than Leona Maguire’s. After an impressive if unspectacular rookie LPGA season in 2020, two runner-up finishes and three more top-10s in 2021 were enough to secure a wildcard pick from Catriona Matthew and the 26-year-old three-time Curtis Cup participant was set to become the first Irish woman ever to grace the pinnacle team event in women’s golf.

“It was a big goal this year but I tried not to think about it too much,” she said upon selection, “but it is a big deal. No Irish woman has ever done it before. I’m the first – hopefully I won’t be the last – but yeah, it’s going to be a really special week.”


But little did she realise just how special and just how quickly she’d become a household name amongst even casual golf fans thanks to her exploits at the Inverness Club in Ohio.

It was a mark of the confidence Matthew had in Maguire that, not only did she put the rookie out in the morning foursomes, but that Maguire would lead the pairing off the first tee. 17 holes later, she’d face a four-footer for the match and the usually calm and collected Ballyconnell woman let her guard slip, exhaled a loud “come on,” pumped both fists and strongly embraced teammate Mel Reid as they dispatched the Korda sisters who were expected to be America’s strongest pairing.

Speaking in the aftermath, Maguire’s words were an indicator of the mindset she’d brought into the team room and foreshadowed the fighting spirit she’d exude throughout the tournament. “I think everybody had written us off today,” she said, “and we just sort of took that in our stride and wanted to be as relentless and fearless as possible.”

We see it time again in team competitions – both the Solheim and Ryder Cups – that five matches over three days is a big ask, especially when the mental toll of playing for something bigger than yourself is taken into consideration. Rarely does anybody outside of the elite team leaders get asked to tee it up in all five, and it’s no surprise that both team captains opted to rest each of the players for one of the four paired sessions before Sunday singles. All except one, that is.

‘You don’t change a winning formula’ is an adage for life, but particularly so in sport, and it was evident that week that Maguire was a winning formula not to be tinkered with and she’d be the only player to feature in five matches.

Three-and-a-half points from a possible four heading into the singles, she was drawn against old College foe Jennifer Kupcho and maintained the same killer instinct she’d portrayed on day one and cruised to a 5&4 victory, completing the most dominance performance ever given by a rookie and providing the platform for Europe to secure a 15-13 win.

“The big thing I’ll take from Solheim Cup,” she’d reflect in the weeks following, “is feeling like I belong out here. Bit by bit this year, I felt more and more comfortable every week.”

Now, two years older, two years more experienced, and a two-time LPGA Tour winner, Maguire is set to qualify easily due to her world ranking with only recent Evian Championship winner Celine Boutier ahead of her from a European perspective and Leona is now a seasoned pro and given her exploits at Inverness, will be a strong voice and a leader in the team room at Finca Cortesin next month.

In Ohio, she had the experienced Mel Reid for guidance should she need it, but with the team shaping up to blend experience with a sprinkling of youthful exuberance, Suzann Petterson may be looking for the Irish girl to take one of the rookies under her wing in Andalucía.

A formidable fourball opponent and an ideal foursomes partner, if you’re looking for a steady hand to guide a rookie taking their first steps, she’s the ideal candidate.

Of course, the run in to the event looks a little different this year, the venue different and the in stark contrast to two years ago, the crowd will be different also. With the Ohio crowd firmly behind the Americans, Maguire revelled in the cauldron, silencing the ‘USA’ chants the only way she knows how.

At Finca, it’ll be a role reversal, and she’ll feed off the roars rather than jeers, and she’ll be hoping the decibels reach deafening levels. But she’ll be no stranger to vocal support having teed it up at Dromoland Castle three weeks ago.

A Sunday charge last year brought delirious cheers from the large galleries she’d attracted, and this year’s event had an even bigger attendance and, as the star attraction, the hordes following the Cavan star dwarfed those elsewhere on the course.

On paper, it’s hard to separate the sides, but as Europe vie for a historic three-in-a-row, they’re going to need their big names to stand up and be counted.

And after her rookie exploits last time, it’s hard to think of anyone better suited to lead from the front.

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