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'We're not the heroes. The heroes are the people that are putting their lives on the line for us'

Leona Maguire on life in Cavan through the Covid-19 crisis, her much-changed schedule, and perspective.

“I THINK WE were supposed to be in 23 countries this year. We’re probably not going to be even close to that.”

Instead, Leona Maguire is rooted firmly in one — and will be for the foreseeable future.

davy-picture-conor-mccabe-photography Professional Irish golfer and Davy brand ambassador, Leona Maguire.

Back home in Ballyconnell, county Cavan, this is not how she saw 2020 panning out. After her promising start to the Ladies PGA Tour season, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a standstill.

And just like everyone else across the world, Maguire’s life was turned upside down. The script was torn to shreds there and then, and back home she went. Back to basics, after a whirlwind few years of globetrotting.

“I’m trying to make the best of it,” she begins. “I don’t get home all that often. This is the longest I’ve been home in probably about six years

“I’m definitely glad I stayed. I’m glad I didn’t head back to the States and get stuck in a hotel somewhere, not being able to leave, just sitting around after the golf courses shut down. It’s nice to be home.

“I’m sort of going back to what I did when I was in secondary school.”

Her father has dragged some old nets out to the garden, the putting mats have been rolled out from the attic, and it’s business as usual for Maguire, as far as circumstances allow. The grind goes on amidst the madness.

She’s hitting balls into a field out the back, working on her putting inside and continuing her gym work in the comfort of her own home, all while working closely with her coach, Shane O’Grady.

“We definitely hadn’t planned for this so we’ve been adjusting things. It’s given me a little bit more time to work on a few things with Shane on FaceTime calls.

“We do a lot of video work when I’m on the road anyway, but it’s just a little strange that I’m here and he’s in Dunshaughlin and we’re video calling. We can still get some stuff done; a lot of mirror work, and a lot of drill work with my golfing inside.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last, it’s just a case of being ready to go whenever it does pick up again.”

Above all else, life goes on. Or for Maguire, it almost rewinds.

“It definitely feels like I’ve gone back in time a little bit,” the 25-year-old, who has her sister Lisa back home with her following a baptism of fire to life after pro golf, rearranging flights and cancelling bookings in her new management job, grins.

“My brother’s doing the Leaving. I probably haven’t been home this much since I was doing it six years ago. I’ll be out chipping in the back garden and he’ll come out with a question, I’ll help and we’ll go back inside.

lpga-u-s-womens-open-conducted-by-the-usga-second-round Maguire at the US Women's Open last May. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“We’re FaceTiming our granny, she’s 93 and by herself. We’re trying to keep her spirits up and make sure she has people to talk to all day. It’s just a case of trying to make the best of it. I’m lucky that I’m in the countryside, that I can keep up my golf as opposed to being in a city somewhere with no back garden or anything like that.”

The postponement of the Olympic Games until 2021 is, understandably, the big talking point on Maguire’s conference call with several journalists. As expected, the news didn’t exactly comes as a shock. 

Disappointment and frustrations had been parked long in advance as her year took a different shape, and her full focus is on moving on and readjusting.

“It definitely wasn’t a surprise. We had heard for a few weeks that it was in doubt, and we had been in regular contact with Team Ireland. Once the qualifiers started getting cancelled and when Canada said they were going to pull out of the Games if it went ahead this year, we kind of knew it was inevitable.

“I had been gearing up towards a big summer, I had planned my schedule around a very busy July and August. We were going to have the Evian, come home for a day, fly to the Olympics and be there for two weeks, come back and play the Scottish Open and British Open. That was the priority this year: those few weeks, having two Majors and the Olympics all in the space of a month and a bit.

“Definitely, the schedule looks drastically different now than it did even a few weeks ago. We had the six months ahead planned for and pretty much set in stone. But hopefully the Games will be even bigger and better next year. It’s just up to us to be ready and prepared for when that comes along.”

While there’s uncertainty surrounding the global LPGA Tour, Maguire is anticipating drastic changes to the 2020 schedule too. The Evian Championship has been rescheduled to the Olympic week already, while the ANA Inspiration, which was due to start today, has been moved to September. But who knows at this stage?

One things for sure: the 23 countries they were supposed hit is looking like it will be a very different figure. But Maguire is staying positive. The LPGA is doing all it can to reschedule events rather than cancel, so she’s hoping for a busy end to the year.

For international sport though, that could be a challenge. 

The CEO of Tennis Australia, for one, shared his fears about tennis, and sport with a global focus earlier this week. Golf, like tennis, relies on global travel, so that is a worry. 2020 could end up being a complete washout.

“Yeah,” Maguire concedes. “This year was supposed to be a year of firsts, this wasn’t the kind of first I was hoping for.

“I know Shane Lowry said the other day that visas are a big thing with golf, there’s a lot of people from a lot of countries that rely on visas for travelling to different counties to play in different tournaments. We’re not like football or rugby that you could stick us all in one city and we could all train and compete in the same city, it just wouldn’t work.

“There’s a lot of logistical things that come along with a global tour like the PGA, LPGA or European Tour. I know Mike Whan and his team have a lot of work cut out, and a lot of negotiations with stakeholders, players, the board of the LPGA, sponsors with headquarters all over the world, and caddies.

lpga-kpmg-womens-pga-championship-first-round In action in June. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“It’s definitely a big jigsaw puzzle that’s going to have to be fitted together. It could be January, but I’d like to hope that it’s going to be sooner than that for us.”

There are plenty of hurdles for the big machine that is golf, which is built around sponsors and corporate hospitality. One country may be free of the virus, but there could be hesitancy around inviting stakeholders from more-affected areas.

Or even just worry attending events with big numbers.

“The big thing is people love sport and people are starved of sport right now. I think there’s going to be a huge appetite for sport once everything picks up again.

“People are still going to go and watch golf, you saw what happened with Cheltenham even though there was a lot of uncertainty. There was a big concern over the virus, and you look at the crowds that turned out at Cheltenham.

“I think there’s still going to be a huge demand for people going to sporting events. Whenever this picks up, whether there’s going to be crowds at our events, advertising is going to be a big thing. There’s going to be billboards, logos on gear… sponsors will still have quite a lot of visibility there.

“I’m sure people will be creative as well. Hospitality might change in form, but I’m sure there’ll be a lot of ways that people can still enjoy their sport even if it’s not what we know.”

One reporter interjects with a suggestion: Nurses, doctors and medical professionals could be invited to events. Maguire wholeheartedly agrees.

“Absolutely. I think that would be great to see. I know there’s different companies that have reached out and showed a lot of support, they’re doing incredible work.

“That’s the big thing: as sportspeople, we’re considered heroes sometimes. But at the minute, we’re not the heroes. The heroes are the people that are putting their lives on the line for us. It would only be fitting if they benefitted in some way after this is all over.”

“There’s a lot more at stake right now than we think,” she adds. “Sometimes we think sport is the be all and end all, but now that three-foot putter doesn’t seem all that important right now.

“There’s doctors and nurses and all kinds going into work in the morning not knowing what they’re going to face. They’re coming out of 24- and 48-hour shifts. They’re the heroes, all we can do is lend our voices to try and encourage people to do the right thing.

“There’s been a lot of social media encouragement about staying at home and being sensible about the whole thing. We’re all in the same boat, this has levelled the playing field for everybody and it’s up to all of us to work together. The quicker we all work together, the quicker this will all be over and hopefully everything will be back to normal.”

It’s a testing time mentally for everyone, but memories from Rio 2016 and other happy times are driving Maguire on. And the anticipation that there, hopefully, will be events sooner rather than later. 

davy-picture-conor-mccabe-photography Davy ambassador Leona Maguire.

She has to keep her eyes on the next date in the calendar, even if it looks unlikely. She has to keep the Olympics in the back of her mind. She has to drive on with different goals: smaller performance-based targets like working on technique rather than event-specific ones.

Day by day, week by week, Maguire is living, and training, in the moment. She won’t look too far ahead, and isn’t quite as worried about certain issues bothering other golfers. Perspective.

One of such is the potentially different course conditions they’ll have to deal with upon their return, due to the restricted care from green keepers. Maguire brushes that off.

“Having not played a golf course in however long it will be, I think we’ll just be glad to get out on golf courses,” she concludes. “I don’t think you’ll hear anybody moaning about balls bobbling on the green, we’ll just be glad to be playing.

“This has given us all perspective, I’d be shocked to hear people moaning about little things like that. I think we’ll all come out the other end of this counting our lucky stars if we have our health and all of that.

“We’ll not be sweating the little things — and if we do, we’ll have to have a little bit of a reality check.”

***

Professional Irish golfer Leona Maguire is a Davy brand ambassador. Davy, Ireland’s leading wealth management provider, continues to back world-class Irish talent and is committed to supporting Leona through her professional career and personal life.

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Emma Duffy

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