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Leona’s awesome LPGA Tour win was celebrated across her home country, and she subsequently appeared on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s Tonight Show-style late-night show. Even the president of Ireland gave her a shout-out on Twitter to congratulate the historic achievement and praise Leona for being a fantastic Irish sportswoman leading the way internationally. The heart-warming reaction from her home country just proves just how proud Irish fans are of her golfing success story.
European golf royalty aka Annika Sorenstam just affirmed (her interview is in this issue) what many in the golf world already knew - Ireland’s Leona Maguire is an incredibly gifted golfer that every tour player should keep an eye on.
Originally hailing from Cavan Country, Leona rapidly rose through the local golf ranks at home before heading off to the USA to play college golf at Duke University in North Carolina. Where she still owns the three lowest single-season stroke averages in the school’s history.
Maguire’s stellar amateur career is well worth noting. She ranked first in the world on the women's World Amateur Golf Ranking from May 2015 to May 2016 and then again from mid-2016 up until February 2018. Maguire's 135 weeks at the top of the amateur rankings is the longest in history.
In 2021 Maguire achieved yet another impressive feat by becoming the first Irishwoman to compete in the Solheim Cup. Setting the record for most points scored by a rookie no less and forming an integral role in Europe’s winning team.
What will Leona do next? Only time will tell. But there’s no doubt her gutsy golfing talent and humble attitude will propel her to new competitive heights and inspire a touch of fear into her opponent’s minds along the way. For when Leona is in play, you don’t look away.
Hometown: Cavan, Ireland.
Sponsors: KPMG, DAVY, Kinetica, Kingspan, Kastus, K Club.
How old were you when you started playing golf and who first introduced you to the game?
My dad was an avid golfer growing up and he first brought my twin sister Lisa and I out on the Par 3 golf course at the Slieve Russell when we were about 10 years old. At that time, we were keen swimmers and swam competitively with the local club. However, one evening after training, Lisa broke her elbow on a playground, putting an end to her swimming season. The Orthopaedic specialist recommended that she take up a racket sport to regain her range of movement in the joint and dad cleverly suggested that golf would be a suitable substitute for tennis. We started at the driving range and then as we improved, we transitioned to playing some holes at the par 3. By the end of that summer, we had caught the golfing bug and have loved the game ever since.
Did you always want a career as a pro golfer?
I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in sports, but it wasn’t until I was about 15 years old that I started to imagine a life as a professional golfer
Which tournament do you most look forward to and why?
I enjoy playing in the AIG Women’s Open every year. We don’t get to play much links golf throughout the year, so I always relish the challenge that the links course and of course, the weather provides.
What are your favourite golf courses at home?
When I am at home, I like playing Slieve Russell. I spend so much time traveling during the season, it is nice to be able to play the course that I grew up on when I have some downtime. My favourite course outside Ireland would be Kingsbarns in Scotland. I played a Women’s British Open there a few years ago and I was impressed by both the challenge it presented and the incredible views of the coastline. Links golf is always a unique test and the conditions can vary so much from day to day, however, I feel as though it tests every part of the game. From accuracy off the tee to imagination around the green, links golf presents a true test of golf in every way. Kingsbarns is definitely one of the best courses that we have the opportunity to play and I am hoping that the LPGA or Ladies European Tours will return to play either a Scottish or a British Open in the next few years.
What does your usual training schedule consist of?
My training routines vary considerably depending on the time of year and if we are in season or not. During the off-season I spend more time in the gym, getting stronger and building up more swing speed to gain more yardage off the tee. I think that as golfers, it is important that we are physically strong and stable, but we also have to be flexible and agile enough to be dynamic. I also spend some time with my golf coach, working on certain aspects of my technique, to make my swing more consistent and my ball flight more accurate for the upcoming season. During the season, my training in the gym focuses more on maintaining the strength that I have built up throughout the off-season. I will continue to work on generating more and more swing speed throughout the year, every extra yard of the tee helps! I place more emphasis on activity recovery between events and after rounds too. I work with my physio to prevent any injuries and I also try and keep flexible and mobile by alternating some Pilates and some swimming sessions. When the season is in full flow, we typically play 3-5 tournaments in a row and then have one week off. During the off-week, I would typically work on aspects of my game that I felt needed a little fine tuning, and I usually spend the majority of my time practicing my short game and putting, playing games against the other pros to keep us sharp.
There’s a feature story in this issue about strength training to increase distance. Averee, a long
drive competitor from the US put the story together. Is this aspect of golf of interest to you?
Length off the tee is definitely an advantage and golf courses are getting longer and longer. That said, I try and focus on improving all aspects of my game to gain some improvements in each area every time I go out to practice.
Best golf advice you’ve ever received?
I would advise any amateur player to work hard on their short irons, wedges, and putting. I think as golfers and especially golfers that love to watch golf on tv we can become infatuated with trying to hit the ball further and further when in fact a lot more gains could be made if more time is spent on the short game. Spending time working on short putting, 10 feet, and is also critical to shaving shots off your game as we have a countless number of those throughout any given round.
What part of your game would you most want to improve?
I love practicing my distance wedges shots, that’s an area of my game that I focus on during off weeks. I have some miniature Irish flags that I keep with me in my golf bag and my caddy Dermot will set those up at different distances, usually between 30-85 yards and I will hit balls at those until I have my yardages honed in. I find that when I practice my wedges it allows me to work on tempo and timing which in turn translates into a good rhythm in my long game.
What clubs are in your bag right now?
Driver Ping G425- 240 yards
3wood Ping G425 – 220 yards
5wood Ping G425– 205 yards
9wood Ping G524– 185 yards
5iron i20– 176 yards
6iron i20– 165 yards
7iron i20- 154 yards
8iron i20 – 146 yards
9iron i20 – 134 yards
Pw- 121 yards
50 degrees – 107 yards
55 degree – 86 yards
60 degree – 74 yards
Which players do you hang out with socially on tour and what do you all get up to off the course?
I spent a lot of time with my European teammates, Emma Talley, and then the Aussies too, Hannah and Su. We always usually dinner together at different points throughout the tournaments weeks and sometimes hang out on off weeks too away from the course and try to see some touristy things along the way in the various cities that we find ourselves in
You were part of the winning side (Europe) at the Solheim Cup in 2021. Given golf is a solo sport how
do you find the competitive team experience?
The Solheim Cup in Toledo was one of the highlights of my career so far. From the outset of this year, I was looking forward to the possibility of making the European Team and I couldn’t have been happier that my play throughout the year impressed Captain Matthew enough to give me a wildcard pick. The week itself was more amazing than I would’ve ever dreamed of it being, from start to finish the team was incredible and we made memories that will last a lifetime. Earning 4.5/5 points for Team Europe was the icing on the cake and just added to what was a truly special week.
Tell us about your coach?
I am always striving to improve all areas of my game with my coach Shane, but I would say that we generally stay focused on the same routines and drills that I work on regularly. I have certain swing drills that I rely on when I feel as though my game is a little off and these always reset my technique back to my blueprint off-sorts. During the off-season, I might try to add in a few new swing feels or drills, but I keep everything fairly consistent during the season.
Which pro golfers (past or present) do you most admire and why?
I admire Padraig Harrington for everything he has achieved and for what he has done to promote golf in Ireland. He has been a great role model for young Irish golfers who can watch him on TV or playing in Irish Opens, hoping one day to emulate his success.
I also have huge admiration for Suzann Pettersen, especially for her achievements and passion shown in the Solheim Cup, especially after giving birth to her son, Herman. The passion she shows for the game is incredible and her strong work ethic and drive to succeed are an inspiration for all young girls taking up the game.
How do you handle performance pressure?
I think that one of the great things about golf is the fact that it’s a game that can never be 100% mastered. We all might have days out there when we feel like we have our A+ game but those days are more the exception rather than the rule. I think the drive to improve comes from the desire to better every aspect of my game, even if that might only be by 1% at a time. Small margins can be the difference between good and great rounds of golf, so every practice session must be a true learning and productive experience. I often look to other athletes in different sports for motivation too. We have so many great Irish athletes right now, female athletes especially, and it is hard not to feel motivated seeing them succeed in their sporting realm. I think that a great example of that was the success of the Irish Women’s Hockey team in the last few years. Watching them win a European silver medal and secure Olympic qualification motivates us all to work harder to ensure that we join them on the plane to Tokyo.
You travel extensively for work. Any key travel tips to share with our readers?
Invest in a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones! They are a life saver when you travel and fly often.
BMW gave you a pretty rad car to get around Palm Springs in at the Chevron Championship. What other
cool ‘perks’ of the job do pro golfers get?
As golfers, we get to travel all over the world and play golf in some cool places. I think that is probably the biggest perk, playing the sport you love while making memories is something that money can’t buy.
You made history earlier this year when you became the first Irish player to win an LPGA Tour event.
How did you feel walking up to collect the Drive On Championship trophy?
It was amazing! Those are the types of moments that you dream about and that you practice day in and day out to achieve so it is really special when they become a reality
What were the celebrations like when you returned home?
The celebrations were amazing, and it was great to be able to celebrate with all my friends and family. My family and friends have been my biggest supporters so it’s always nice when I can go home and share special occasions like those with them
You’ve competed in Australia a few times. Please share your favourite courses here.
I enjoyed both my trips to play golf in Australia and I hope that we are back down there in the next few seasons. I would love to get the chance to play Royal Melbourne someday!
Do you have any pre-game rituals and/or superstitions?
I always have 10 tees in my pocket: 7 long ones and 3 short ones and my lucky shamrock or Duke ball marker. I keep my routine consistent for every round that I play, and I don’t do anything different whether it’s the first round of a small tournament or the last round of a major.
Women’s golf fashion is continually evolving. Given you’re from a colder climate, which winter golf
apparel items do you always take to the course?
I tend to wear a thermal layer underneath my golf gear for that added layer of insulation and then I would usually add a woolly hat, a sweater, and maybe a sleeveless jacket if it gets really cold.
How do you think we can encourage more girls to take up our sport?
I think that golf, like many other sports, has made significant inroads in the last number of years concerning gender equality and inclusivity across the sport. That said, as with everything in life, there is always room for improvement. Being KPMG’s ambassador for the 20 x 20 campaign over the last number of years opened my eyes to the statistical evidence of gender equality that does exist concerning participation, media representation, and event attendance.
However, throughout the campaign, we could see waves of change ripple through each of these areas. There is no doubt that the number of young girls playing sport today is as high as it ever has been, but I think it is our responsibility now to ensure that these young girls continue to play sport as they progress through their teenage years and into adulthood.
Golf specifically has made increasing efforts to promote gender equality through partnerships with the Ladies and Men’s pro tours to host combined fields events where the women and men compete at the same course, on the same dates for equal prize funds. Events like the World Invitational in Galgorm Castle help to promote the visibility of women’s and men’s golf, providing them both with an equal platform which helps to grow the game exponentially.
I think that the most powerful force that a young girl or boy can see is their heroes competing in real life. We all love watching our favourite stars competing on TV but seeing them up close and personal makes a lasting impact. I remember my Dad bringing my sister and I to the Irish Open when we were starting to play and it really was inspiring and motivating to see the likes of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, some of Ireland’s greatest golfers compete. In the same way, I would love to have the same impact on young girls today and act as a role model for them.
When we see our heroes compete, we strive to emulate their success, their habits, and their style. I want to have more events at home where young girls would have the opportunity to see golfers that “look” like them and “swing” like them.
What are your interests outside of golf?
I love going to other sporting matches with friends and taking time out in the evenings to go to the cinema. When I am at home, I enjoy spending time with my two golden retrievers Sydney and Snoopy, taking them on nice long walks in the countryside and around the golf course.
You were awarded the ANNIKA National Player of the Year title twice back in your college playing days.
Have you experienced any extra special Annika moments on or off course?
Annika was at her peak when I was first starting to get into golf, and she was someone that I looked up to with respect to her golf game and worth ethic. She advanced the game in so many ways and I would love to emulate, even to a small degree, the success that she has enjoyed through the years.
Finish this sentence. The future of women’s golf is… looking exceptionally bright and is becomingly increasingly competitive. The game is going from strength to strength, and I hope that we can all see further improvements in years to come.
Words: Roxanne Williams