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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 17 April 2021
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'Turning pro is where I want to be,' but Maguire patiently plotting Olympic route in the mean time

The Maguire twins talked with us about the temptation of turning pro and the structured life of a collegiate athlete.

CAVAN’S VERY OWN world number one golfer Leona Maguire isn’t planning  on using her clubs to bushwhack a way through any risky shortcuts for the foreseeable future.

The game’s top amateur woman is perfectly content with her place in the sport. It’s good to be top dog.

Leona Maguire Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

A year in to a scholarship at Duke University — 30 miles north-west of Raleigh, North Carolina — Maguire and her twin sister Lisa are soaking up a wealth of golfing knowledge in an environment designed to give amateurs the tools needed to enter the major ranks… in time.

“The weather’s a huge factor,” the Ballyconnell native begins, “being able to play all year round. Not having to be bundled up in five or six layers in the middle of December is a major benefit.”

It takes more than good weather to build up so much confidence and skill in the Maguires after their move stateside. The conditions indoors are pretty good too.

“Over there, they’ve pretty much everything: physios, doctors, strength coaches, everything’s there at your fingertips. You’ve access to everything you could possibly want, so that’s a huge benefit.

“All the tournaments are organised for you and you don’t have to go doing it yourself. You’ve someone there looking after you,  doing it for you. It gives you a lot of piece of mind going to tournaments, you just have to show up and play.”

The end result is that logistics and management factors are, for better or worse, lifted wholesale out of Maguire’s gloved left hand. It evidently suits her judging by her brilliant title challenge at the British Masters last month.

“When I go back now in August I’ll know exactly what I’m doing every day until the Christmas holidays. It’s all scheduled out: I’ll know where I have to be at 7am or 12 or whenever.

“Whether it’s in the gym or on the range; it’s all planned out and I know what’s expected of me. Above and beyond that, I can do as much practice as I want. So that’s great to have that structure.”

Routine and rules can be a double edged sword, however. Particularly when an organisation as intransigent as the NCAA are involved. The governing body for collegiate sports  have a tendency of haphazardly imposing archaic rules on the best and brightest basketball, American football and baseball talents.

unnamed (2) Leona, left, and twin sister Lisa Maguire at Grand Canal Dock . Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Until March, the strict guidelines governing what form of outside aid student athletes could receive brought up numerous anecdotal examples of athletes – who help attract vast sums for their college and the NCAA – going hungry on the three-meal-a-day limit. Fortunately, not all athletes need as much calorific fuel as the average linebacker or power forward, so the 5’6″ Maguire twins don’t feel the pressure of the thresholds.

“We fall slightly under that scale,” smiles Lisa, “women’s golf falls a bit under the radar in that sense.

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She adds: “It [being in the US] has definitely brought all our games on an awful amount this year. So I’m looking forward to getting back out there in August, another year’s progress under our belts.

It’s the place to go to play all year round. The competition is getting tougher and tougher, you get a chance to play with the best players in the world on a week-to-week basis, so you couldn’t ask for much more.”

There’s always more to chase, though. There is an enormous carrot dangling 12 months (52 weeks to the day this coming Thursday) down the road, The Olympic Games in Rio.

Ranked 55th in the world with 59 places up for grabs (and top ranked nations limited to four players) Leona Maguire is in position to make a burst for Brazil. But rankings have a nasty habit of refusing to stay static, and Maguire will have to keep popping her face around tournaments this side of the Atlantic to keep the gold medal dream alive.

Obviously being in college in the states, I’m limited a bit and can’t play as many [ranking tournaments], but if I get a few under my belt, that would be great. We’ll see where I stand then.

“I can still stay amateur and play, but the rankings are based on the pro rankings. (The second place at the British Masters) would have given me quite a few points in that, so that’s a good thing as well.”

A +4 finish saw her miss out on qualifying for this weekend’s Open Championship and a chance at more valuable ranking points, but Maguire will go again in the ‘fifth Major’ Evian Championship on 10 September.

Hopefully I’ll get a few points there and just keep chipping away at that and the cut-off’s some time in July maybe next year.

1961093834 The Maguires were already causing a stir in the 2007 Irish Open. Source: Press Eye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

“It would be easier if it was based on amateur rankings… but to play in the Olympics would be a massive honour. Every kid growing up [dreams of it], I did a lot of swimming, so I wanted to be up there. I remember watching Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe in Beijing and Sydney.”

Turning pro would open up a whole new set of options. In at least one way, it would make matters dramatically less complicated. Maguire is patient though. Turning professional is something she expects to happen, yet she won’t be cajoled out of Duke before she’s ready.

“I’m taking it as it comes. I’ve three years left (in college) and a lot can change in three years, so I’m taking it as it comes I’ll not make any rash decisions, but if a situation presented itself, then obviously turning pro and on the tour is where I want to be. I’ll have one eye on that and one eye on my amateur golf.

“I’m just working away, trying to get as ready as possible for when the time comes.”

Leona Maguire tested her skills in the AIG Insurance Summer Splash event. AIG Insurance announced up to 15% discounts on their car, home and travel insurance products, to members of sporting clubs across their sponsorship partners. Click here for more information.

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Sean Farrell

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