Ireland knew it years ago, but now the world knows it – Leona Maguire is a golfing superstar!
At last weekend’s Solheim Cup at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, she went from rookie to Europe’s most feared player with a record-breaking performance. As Europe claimed only its second away win, the girl from County Cavan became the most successful rookie in Solheim Cup history, accumulating four-and-a-half points out of five – she was undefeated! She was also only the third player in Solheim Cup history to earn her team more than four points in a single competition.
“She’s good,” said defeated US captain Pat Hurst. “She’s going to be around for a long time. She’s the one we’re going to have to fear, like I said, for a long time. She played at Duke and she was good there, and I think this is only going to elevate her game even that much more.”
At the age of nine, Leona and her twin sister, Lisa, gave up promising swimming careers to concentrate on golf. Leona played her first amateur competition at Castle Hume Golf Club, Enniskillen, on 17th March 2005 when she was ten, playing off a handicap of 36. By September she’d been cut to 14 and had won the HSBC British Wee Wonders Championship by 11 shots at St Andrews with a finishing round of 61. She’s got a list of remarkable achievements as long as your arm, but the ones that stand out are in her early career are:
- aged 12 she won the Hermitage Ladies Scratch Cup
- at 13 she won the French Under-18 International title in Paris and the Lancome Irish Ladies’ Close Championship
- at 14 she won the French International Lady Juniors U21 Amateur. and she became the youngest ever player to win the Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Golf Championship. Alongside her sister she played for Great Britain and Ireland in the Vagliano Trophy several months later, becoming the youngest player at the age of 14 ever to represent the side (she was born 15 minutes after her twin.)
- the following year Leona and Lisa played for Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup in 2010, and Leona became the youngest player at the age of 15 ever to represent the side.
- at 16 she won the Portuguese International Ladies Amateur Championship, the Irish Women’s Open Strokeplay title and the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship, the youngest player to ever win the event.
During her time playing USA College golf for Duke University, she broke many records and collected numerous titles and awards, including:
- the all-time ACC record of most even or under par rounds in a college career. Her record of 80 even or under par rounds (she eventually finished her college career with 87 such rounds, the second best in NCAA history)
- she made it onto the ACC Honor Roll on four consecutive years
- she holds the record for winning the most “ACC Golfer of the Month” awards – 9 in total
- she won the Edith Cummings Munson Golf Award by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) twice
- her final 70.97 college career scoring average was the best in NCAA history for any female golfer with at least 100 rounds
- Amateurgolf.com selected her as the second best female amateur golfer of the last ten years
- Golfweek selected her as the best women’s college golfer of the last decade.
in 2018 she broke Lydia Ko’s record for the most weeks at the top of the World Amateur rankings – she eventually held the No 1 spot for 135 weeks before turning professional. SInce then she has risen steadily up the World Golf Rankings, managing to stay under the radar until this year.
- joint second in the Lotte Championship with rounds of 68, 67, 65 and 67, including two eagles
- equalled the tournament record lowest round score, with a 65 at the LPGA Mediheal Championship
- finished second to Nellie Korda at the Meijer LPGA Classic with rounds of 65, 64, 70 and 66.
- highest ever placing in a professional golf major with 15th place in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
- shot the lowest ever final round score, by any golfer male or female, in the history of the 756 major grand slam tournaments held so far (approx. 50,000 individual final rounds) with a 61 in the last round of The Evian Championship. It was also the joint lowest of any round in the history of all golf’s major grand slam tournaments, either male or female (approx. 200,000 individual rounds).
- achieved her sixth consecutive top 15 place on an LPGA event and also passed the $1 million mark in career earnings.
- finished 13th in the 2021 Women’s British Open at Carnoustie
- none of her last 29 rounds of golf has been over par. As a result, her world golf ranking has risen to 43rd place, her highest ever.
It was no wonder that Catriona Matthew chose her as one of her Captain’s Picks for the Solheim Cup team.
The usually reserved Leona was more demonstrative than ever, fist-pumping wildly all week as she made putt after putt. After Team Europe lifted the trophy she said, “It’s been an incredible week. It’s a dream come true to be here to go and win a Solheim Cup on American soil, you can’t even imagine. We had a phenomenal team this week from top to bottom and this is an experience I will probably never forget.”
Lisa went on record saying “I knew Leona was incredible. Everyone at home knew Leona was incredible and now the whole world got to see how incredible she really is. We all couldn’t be more proud. It’s been a fantastic week and fantastic win for Team Europe.”
“Leona probably channelled her inner Suzann (Pettersen) after years watching Suzann play Solheim Cups and winning Solheim Cups, especially at Killeen in 2011,” Lisa added. “It was incredible to watch.”
And on that note I’ll finish with a photo I got when I bumped into the two sisters watching Team Europe beat Team USA to lift the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in 2011 – they’d just finished playing in the PING Junior Solheim Cup at Knightsbrook in Meath days earlier, having held the USA team to a draw.