'People take a saint's name for their confirmation, and I met a little girl recently that took Leona instead'

The Cavan woman leads the charge at this week’s ISPS HANDA World Invitational.

Leona Maguire (file pic).
Leona Maguire (file pic).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

LEONA Maguire is excited to get the chance to showcase the best of Irish women’s golf to a local crowd in person when she leads the charge at this week’s ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm Castle and Massereene.

The Cavan woman grew up going to the men’s Irish Open every year with father Declan and sister Lisa and, rather than looking to Irish women golfers as inspirations, she instead looked to the likes of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley and, further afield, Tiger Woods.

Maguire did have female inspirations across the game, such as Norwegian hero Suzann Pettersen, and she was in attendance when Ireland hosted the 2011 Solheim Cup as Europe defeated the USA in front of thronging crowds at Killeen Castle. But a lack of elite Irish professionals in the women’s game meant she had no local inspirations to draw from.

So as she arrives in Co Antrim this week as the bookies’ favourite to claim the victory, she’s excited to get the chance to play in front of a home crowd — alongside the likes of Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey — and show the potential of Irish golf in person.

“It’s big. It’s big to have a home event,” says Maguire, the first Irish golfer to win an LPGA Tour event and play in the Solheim Cup.

“I think you see with the Lionesses winning last week at Wembley, 89,000 people were there watching that, and that’s going to inspire a generation of young girls. I think when you see it on TV it’s one thing. When you see it in person it brings it to another level, whether it’s getting a picture or an autograph or a golf ball or whatever it is.

“I know I had posters and I had pictures on my wall as a kid for years when I met different athletes. I think it’s extra special when you get to see it there in person.

“People take a saint’s name for their confirmation, and I met a little girl recently that took Leona instead! Definitely not a saint name, but, yeah, cool sort of thing I guess! It’s a little bit surreal actually, I don’t really know how I feel about it. It’s a bit of pressure.”

There are expected to be big crowds at Galgorm and Massereene this week, aided by the outstanding weather that has seen wall-to-wall sunshine so far and could hit 30 degrees over the weekend, and they will all be willing on a home winner too.

If she continues her form from the final round at Muirfield last weekend then Maguire could be the one to achieve that, the 27-year-old producing a stunning final round 66 to secure her best Major finish at the AIG Women’s Open by coming tied-fourth, which has also elevated her to 17th in the world rankings.

But this week will be a different challenge altogether. At The Open, Ashleigh Buhai won at 10-under-par, a score that might not even be good enough to finish in the top-30 in Northern Ireland this week. Having to shift mindset from ‘par is a good score’ to ‘I’ve got to make birdies’ is something that the Slieve Russell woman is very aware she will have to get right quickly if she wants to contend this week.

“The trickiest thing this week is maybe only seeing the courses once and then splitting the preparation between both courses being a little different,” Maguire explains of the two-course approach, which sees the field play one round at Galgorm and one round at Massereene on either Thursday or Friday, with the final two rounds both at Galgorm.

“Probably adjusting as well to the speed of the greens as well. I saw Massereene yesterday and won’t see it again until Friday, so it may change a little bit between now and then. Just be trying to adjust as quickly as possible.

“I mean, ultimately any time you played a golf course you’re trying to shoot as low a score as possible. I mean, even at Muirfield last week there was chances out there. You had to take them where you got them, and it’s no different really this week.

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“I think the scoring will be better at Galgorm. I think Massereene is quite short. They’ve grown up the rough, and same probably here. I think it’s very much you’ll make your score at Galgorm, keep it tight around Massereene, and try to go low on Galgorm on the weekend then.”

And, of course, sending all the Cavan fans who will undoubtedly relish the chance to see their hometown hero in action up close back down the road with a smile on their face after a home win would be the perfect way to finish the week for Maguire.

She’s the highest ranked player in the field so naturally she has been made the favourite, but she’s not paying attention to that expectation, instead opting to take it one stroke at a time as she looks to double her trophy haul on the LPGA Tour.

“It would be very special. Any time you get to win on the LPGA is a cool thing. It’s very hard to win on the LPGA,” she points out.

“The standard every week… you have to do a lot of things right. It’s not just you that affects that, so ultimately you’re just trying to play as well as you can. And if that’s enough at the end of week it is; if not, still going to be a fantastic week here.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

- Originally published at 15.34

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