Inside the clubhouse at the newly rebranded PGA National Slieve Russell there was no feeling of airs or graces about Leona Maguire who, given her career resumé to date, would be forgiven for depicting some level of ‘swagger’.
“We’ve had really good support here over the years,’ Maguire said of her home club. “Every time we’re home the members will be asking how we’re getting on and where we’re off to next. It’s always nice to come home here and I suppose you never really realise how good a facility it is until you go to other places, I now realise how lucky we are.”
Leona was home for a family wedding but returns this week for the beginning of a three week spell on the LPGA Symetra Tour, but not before she spent a day fulfilling a pledge to the 20×20 Campaign, for which she is an Ambassador. Seven girls were welcomed to Co. Cavan for a clinic and the chance to practice and play with the former world number one amateur, a once in a lifetime experience.
The 20×20 programme, launched by the Federation of Irish Sport last October, aims to increase participation, attendance at major events and media coverage of female sports by 20% by 2020. Of six ambassadors for the initiative, golf has two in Stephanie Meadow and Maguire.
“It’s a big thing for me to be an ambassador for this campaign. There’s a great buzz about 20×20 at the minute and it’s great to see a lot of Irish female athletes doing really well around the world in lots of different sports. The initiative is going well so far and obviously as Ambassadors, the more we do, the more it helps.”
Growing up as an aspiring female professional golfer in Ireland, the directly relatable role models were few and far between but Leona and twin sister Lisa found motivation still.
“There weren’t many Irish female professionals to look up to so I had to look to other sports and people like Annika Sorenstam, Serena Williams and Katie Taylor.
“I guess in Irish golf terms we looked up to Padraig [Harrington] and Darren [Clarke] or Paul [McGinley]. I remember we went to the Irish Open at Baltray and Carton House but then got to play in the Women’s Irish Open at Portmarnock Links, I played with the likes of Laura Davis and Suzanne Peterson. We had plenty of choices for role models in golf but maybe not as many female ones as we would have liked.”
Indeed, it is now the responsibility of Maguire, Meadow and even Olivia Mehaffey and Julie McCarthy who are excelling at amateur level, to be that source of inspiration for the next generation.
“For me it’s about trying to show young golfers how fun golf can be and the opportunities that it gives you. I’ve made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime through golf. The most important thing is that they enjoy it, have fun and appreciate the benefits that come along with it.”
Maguire secured a 3.9 grade-point average while obtaining her degree in psychology, marketing and management at Duke University and believes that sharing her experience of balancing sport and school is important.
“I’d like to show that you don’t have to choose between your education and golf. A lot of people, girls in particular, give up on their sport once they approach the Leaving Cert but you can do both and you can make a career out of it if you want, but you can also stay involved in the sport in other capacities too.”
Leona currently sits third in the Volvik Race to the Card having pocketed $75,654 on the Symetra Tour so far this year. She is well on her way to playing rights on the LPGA Tour for 2020, however now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal.
“I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. If I get another couple of good finishes, my card should be secured but I don’t want to get too complacent either. I still want to try and win as many events as I can this season.
“I’ll probably trial and error a few things with caddies and the likes so I can hit the ground running in January when I start.”
Thoughts of home help have helped pave the way for Maguire, not least after both her wins this year at the Symetra Classic and the Windsor Golf Classic; the messages of support from across the water overwhelming for the fledgling pro.
“The great thing about Irish people in general is that it doesn’t matter what sport it is or what event, they really get behind everyone. When I won I was getting messages from people that I hadn’t heard from in years and I guess that’s the beauty of social media now, a lot of people can keep track of things so that’s really nice.”
Luckily, home fans will have an opportunity to see Maguire in action when she returns to play in the ISPS Handa World Invitational hosted by Modest! Golf from August 15 – 18 at Galgorm Castle and Massereene.
“It should be a great week. The last big event I played at home was Curtis Cup and that was three years ago now. It will be nice to play in front of home crowds again, I’m sure there will be plenty of people out to support, there always is, I remember the crowds at Killeen Castle were huge, there should be a great atmosphere, playing for equal prize money is also a big thing, I’m looking forward to it.”
To get a second ticket to the World Invitational free with every ticket purchased, simply enter the code: IGM2019
For more information, please visit www.worldinvitational.golf
Meanwhile, Leona’s sister Lisa makes her own return to competition this week on the LET Access Tour. The paths the prodigious Cavan twins have taken amidst the paid ranks could hardly have proved different but Lisa will be determined to get her own ambitions up and running after a difficult start to life as a pro when she tees up in Spain at the €35,000 Ribeira Sacra Patrimonio de la Humanidad International Ladies Open, July 11-13.