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'The dream has always been to get onto the LPGA. If a girl from Cavan can do it, then anybody can'

Leona Maguire is primed for the world’s biggest stage in 2020 after her remarkable rise to the top.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. TWO words that said it all. They say a picture paints a thousand stories, but perhaps in a more modern way, a tweet did just that for Leona Maguire.

The accompanying picture which showed an ear-to-ear smile and a glimmer in her eye added to it all, of course. And the reason behind it all was safely in her hands. The coveted LPGA [Ladies Professional Golf Association] Tour card secured. Finally.

Absolute and utter delight. A dream come true after years and years of hard work in both the amateur and professional ranks. The LPGA Tour — the world’s top female professional tournament — was always the end goal, and here it was, reached.

Pure happiness. A small bit of relief. But mission accomplished at last.

“It’s been a long few years,” Maguire, again with that ear-to-ear smile across her face, beamed as she reflected on it all in KPMG’s Dublin office this afternoon

And the dream has been to get onto the LPGA for quite a while so it’s nice to actually have it officially done and to be starting next year.

“That was the idea with playing Symetra Tour [the official developmental tour of the LPGA Tour] this year,” the Cavan native, who turned pro last May, expands.

“I obviously missed Q-School last year by a shot and that was always the trade-off between going to play European Tour this year or playing Symetra Tour. The money wasn’t as good on Symetra Tour but the end goal was to get the LPGA card and that’s the best way to get it.

“I suppose even going out to America, playing college golf, that’s always been the pathway. Ticking off a lot of boxes on the way up, it’s just another rung of the ladder that I climbed up.”

From Ballyconnell to Duke University in North Carolina and back again, with endless amounts of golf around the world in between, it’s been some journey for 24-year-old Maguire.

The past year or two have been an absolute whirlwind. A hectic college season as she sealed her degree and closed a four-year stint Stateside meant her amateur career ended on a high. Transition into the professional game alongside her twin sister, Lisa, soon followed and some promising performances saw Leona secure her full LET [Ladies European Tour] card by Christmas 2018.

A career-first pro victory in April and a second in May left her in good stead, with her LPGA status for 2020 confirmed two weekends ago as one of the top 10 players on the final Volvik Race for the Card standings.

Celebrations included each and every one of the 10 jumping into a swimming pool together, Maguire, who finished seventh, laughed. 

EA3I7859 Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s a long year and everyone’s competing from week to week. I think there were 23 tournaments, I didn’t do them all, I think I did 16. Week on week, it is a grind.

It’s nice then when it’s finally done and it’s all secure and all of that. I think that’s a bit of a tradition that’s started that all 10 jump into the pool. At that point, you’ll kind of do anything once you know you’ve got it in your back pocket!

And for Maguire, it was all probably made even more special by the fact that Stephanie Meadow retained her own card in Texas that same evening, producing a huge finish to join her fellow Ulster star on Tour next season. 

“It was a big weekend,” Maguire nods, telling how she watched bits and pieces of Meadow’s final round on television as she waited around for her own card ceremony.

“Didn’t she hole a big putt at the end to keep her card… I mean that’s about as much pressure as you’re going to get, to hole that kind of putt to keep your job for the next year. I’m sure it’s a big relief for her not to have to go back to Q-School. It’s the first time ever there’ll be two Irish players out on the LPGA, which is pretty cool.

Growing up, there were no Irish players on the LPGA. We had a couple in Europe, but not many. It’s nice now that young girls taking up the game or interested in golf have someone to hopefully look at on the TV like the way the lads have had for the last 10 or 20 years.

Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley were among those close to home she followed closely back then, while she had to go further afield to Norway’s Suzann Pettersen for female golfers. In more general terms then, there was Katie Taylor, and the Williams sisters for herself and Lisa.

She smiles when it’s put to her that she and Meadow are now just that for aspiring Irish female golfers.

It’s nice for young girls now to see that it is possible to go to the LPGA. If a girl from Cavan can do it, then anybody can do it.

“At tournaments, I’m starting to see more and more little girls out asking to get hats signed and pictures. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was doing that at Irish Opens. It’s still weird when it’s happening to me, but it’s a nice part of it too.”

Her journey to the summit hasn’t been exactly straightforward, though. Like most things in life, it wasn’t plain sailing. She had come within touching distance before.

Maguire was just one step away from earning her place on the LPGA Tour back in 2016, but decided to postpone her pro career to finish her Psychology, Business and Accounting degree.

It was a tough decision at the time, but it definitely feels like she went with the more mature option, in hindsight. It seems she made the right decision.

leona-maguire At the 2019 Northern Ireland Open - Pro/Am. Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

“I think it was about taking long-term perspective, stepping back a little bit,” Maguire reflects. “The dream has always been to get the LPGA and for me it wasn’t a case of if, it was more a case of when.

“People have been asking me for years when I was getting to LPGA. Even when I was coming home in the summer, people were asking me was I on LPGA.

I stayed in college, got my degree and college golf definitely helped me. I’ve always said America was one of the best decisions I made. It helped my game a lot, helped me grow up a lot.

“The adjustment to pro life… there’s a little bit more involved than I probably guessed there would have been. The Symetra Tour has been quite a good prep for LPGA hopefully in terms of the standard of golf, getting used to the travel, Pro Ams, all this stuff that goes into it.”

The wait was definitely worthwhile, she assures. The transition, a whirlwind at first, but it’s one she’s taken largely in her stride. She does miss aspects of college life and things are very different now, but it’s clear as day that she’s happy as can be.

I mean I have my dream job now,” Maguire smiles. “I have the best office in the world. It’s different every week but it’s what I want to do.

“I liked being part of a team in college. Golf is a very individual sport so it was nice to have that team going with you week after week. That was a bit of a change; all of a sudden, being on your own at an event every week. But I suppose I put my own team together. Your caddie becomes a little bit more important and stuff like that.

“It definitely was an adjustment.”

As was seeing less and less of Lisa. Different is the word she keeps repeating when she talks about that, considering they’ve lived in each others’ pockets from childhood. It’s always been Leona and Lisa, Lisa and Leona. The prodigiously talented pair from Cavan. 

“We still kept in touch,” the slightly younger of the two assures. “She was playing some of the European events so I actually got to play with her in Morocco and Dubai so that was nice to catch up. Then, she went one way and I went the other. It was trickier probably for Mam and Dad keeping track of what time zone we were in!

It was a little different at the start and then it was nice to have there for the last three weeks caddying. I mean she knows my game better than anybody, and she’s not afraid to say something when something needs to be said. It was nice to have her there.

That was just one of the minor differences, however.

Through amateur days it was play a tournament, go back to school or college and repeat. Now, it’s relentless travel across the world, moving from place to place, hotel to hotel for weeks on end before getting back to base to Cavan and her familiar surroundings of the Slieve Russell.

lisa Leona and Lisa have taken every step up the ladder together. Source: Richard Martin-Roberts/R&A.

“There’s no real way, I don’t think, to prepare you for that until you actually do it,” she stresses, recalling 10 weeks in-a-row on the go at the start of the season, before delving into the mental toughness needed on an often lonely road in earning a living. 

Obviously the better you do, the easier it is. Mentally, it’s as much draining as it is physically. But I think it wasn’t until my off weeks and the gaps that I realised how tired I was.

“When you’re going from week to week, you kind of just run on adrenaline, and jet lag and whatever kind of gets a bit mixed.

“I went straight from Australia back to a tournament in Florida and people were telling me, ‘You need so many hours to adjust for every time zone you go through,’ but I just didn’t have the time. I had a tee-time at 8am the next morning, I had to just set my alarm and up I got regardless of where I was in the world. You just get used to, it I suppose.”

She enjoys the travel and going to new places — Australia, hands down has been her favourite so far — but Maguire also loves getting home and spending some quality time in the Breffni county.

Her own bed, the homemade food, the family time, the Cavan football matches they’re brought to by their GAA-mad father, Declan — “When I’m away, it’s never, ‘How did you play today?’ It’s, ‘Well, this match finished with this score… this team has done this..’ That keeps me grounded,” she laughs — the perks are plentiful.

Her appreciation for the little things in life goes a long way, and says a lot about Maguire’s character. She speaks about how much of a help the likes of Harrington and McGinley have been through her blossoming career, and how they offer advice when necessary. From there, she takes a closer look at the support networks within Irish female sport and the remarkable encouragement on show across the board. 

“I think we all kind of feed off each other,” she grins. “There’s really a sense that everyone wants to see everybody else doing well, and we’re kind of inspired by each other.”

Her gratitude and appreciation for how things have been playing out both on and off the course shines through. Every little thing gets a mention.

No matter where I go in the world, there’s always someone Irish there, it seems. Irish people in general, I feel, are great to support their own, it doesn’t matter what sport it is or what it is, they really get behind people.

No more, though, than those closest to her. Her nearest and dearest.

“I’ve been very lucky, I’ve had a lot of support from my friends and family,” Maguire enthuses. “They’ve been there from day one. Mam and Dad especially have made a lot of sacrifices to get me to where I am, and Lisa to where she is.”

EA3I7919 With KPMG Managing Partner Seamus Hand today. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Back to that aforementioned tweet.

People were asking me who’s the village that I refer to in my tweet. When I sat down and thought about it, there’s so many more people involved than you actually realise.

“Yeah, it was me standing on the stage with my card but Mam, Dad, family, friends, my coach Shane [O'Grady] that’s been there from the beginning all the way through junior golf, everybody that’s been involved. Duke College Golf, my sponsors, Modest [her management company set up by Niall Horan]; if one or two of them were missing, well then maybe the outcome is very different.

“If they believe in me, then I should too. I’m quite lucky.”

Lucky, she is. But luckier, she’ll be next year as she lives out her dream. 

Maguire will enjoy a few weeks on home soil now and then the preparation work starts for next year. With one LET event in Spain remaining in September to ensure she keeps her card in that regard, she’ll return to the Emerald Isle for more down time over Christmas, but you can clearly see she’s mad to get going full throttle again. 

“It’s nice to have this time to reflect on the year and work on the things that I need to with my golf, get back in the gym and get some good foundations built for next year,” she concludes.

It’s kind of a trade-off. It’s nice having this gap to work on things but I also kind of wish I was starting next week!

She’ll have to wait until January for that unfortunately, with her new chapter kicking off in Florida. But like everything else so far, it will surely be worth it for Leona Maguire.

***

KPMG ambassador Leona Maguire, who has secured her playing card on the LPGA Tour for the 2020 season at her first attempt, joined KPMG Managing Partner, Seamus Hand, at their Dublin offices today.

KPMG are committed to enabling people to fulfil their potential, to be extraordinary and are proud to be the primary supporter of Leona in her efforts to compete with the world’s best golfers since she turned professional in June 2018.

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Emma Duffy

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