Sport Golf

Wednesday 21 August 2019

'I like playing under pressure . . . they're the situations you want to be in' - Maguire happy with life on tour

 

Rising star: Leona Maguire is third on the money list in just her first season on the Symetra Tour. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Rising star: Leona Maguire is third on the money list in just her first season on the Symetra Tour. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Sinéad Kissane

It was Leona Maguire who asked the opening question as quick as her swing off the tee. "Do you play golf yourself?" she asked, just after we met near the putting green at the Slieve Russell PGA National Ireland. As I gave an almost apologetic 'no', a group of young girls were getting ready nearby to get some golf tips off her later that morning. Leona is only 24 and already plate-spinning life as a sportsperson who inspires and a golfer starting out on a professional career.

Let's cut to the figures first: Leona is in her first year as a pro golfer on the Symetra Tour which is the second-tier women's professional tour in the United States. She's currently third in the official money list for 2019 on $78,839 after nine events (which is $33,866 behind the leader, Perrine Delacour, who's played 13 events already this year).

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Maguire has already won twice on tour: the Windsor Golf Classic in California in April and the Symetra Classic in North Carolina in May and is on course to get her LPGA Tour card at the end of the year.

This all followed an amateur career which included her holding the all-time record for number of weeks - 135 - as the world's No 1-ranked amateur.

Maguire was the only player to win the Annika Award for college player of the year twice (2015 and '17) while she was on scholarship at Duke University, North Carolina until Maria Fassi (Arkansas) won it last year and this year.

Luxury

Figures never get around to telling the full story of the world of a pro golfer. Players on the Symetra Tour usually carry their own bags as caddies are a rare luxury. There's no entourage, you're usually on your own. Leona's dad, Declan, is currently spending three weeks with her on tour in America to caddy for her. Can the life of a pro golfer be lonely?

"A little bit. But I'm lucky that I've got some good friends out there," Maguire says, sitting upstairs in the clubhouse in the Slieve Russell which is just minutes away from her home in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. "It's a little different from the men's that we don't have our big entourage of coaches and psychologists and physios. We're not hopping on private jets and jetting off! You make friendships quicker when you're all in the same boat".

No matter what question you ask Leona, the dial nearly always returns to the relationship with her twin sister, Lisa. She got into golf because of a broken elbow. Not her own, but when Lisa fell and broke her elbow in a playground in Enniskillen when they were 10.

Swimming was their big hobby back then. To help the recovery of her broken elbow, the physio suggested to their parents that Lisa take up a racquet sport. So their dad got them a couple of clubs. By the end of that summer, the girls decided to let go of swimming and go with the pull of golf. Having a twin sister as a daily and natural competitor might just be ideal prep for handling the pressure as a pro golfer. They worked with a few in college but Leona doesn't currently work with a sports psychologist.

"I suppose a lot of my psychology comes from knowing that I've the hard work done and that way I can go out and play my best golf. I've been fortunate that, mentally, I've always been quite strong".

Where does that come from?

"Probably competing and having to deal with things from a young age. Practising and competing against Lisa, that definitely helped as well," says Leona.

"I like playing under pressure, that's what you practise for. They're the situations you want to be in, they're kind of the most fun for me. Having a twin sister, we were always competitive. It didn't matter what it was - if it was snakes and ladders, if it was a game of football out in the back garden or up here at the golf-course.

"I suppose we got used to competing and people comparing us from a young age so there's always been that little bit of a sense of pressure. That pressure comes from - not necessarily other people - but from myself as well to do my best."

Their parents, Breda and Declan, were conscious of always letting the girls decide for themselves what they wanted to do. When their daughters went to America to choose which golf scholarship to take up, they let the twins travel over by themselves and decide for themselves.

"The fact that both Declan and I are teachers, we would be very tuned-in to how children think and their development," Breda says. "It always had to be their decision because you'll only spend that length of time at something if you enjoy it".

The Maguire family have had to become adept at calculating time zones. A few weeks ago, Breda was in Waterford with their son Odhran (who is seven years younger than his sisters and has an offer of a golf scholarship to East Carolina University next year) as he competed with the Leinster U-18 boys, Declan was in America with Leona and Lisa was in Spain playing on the LET Access Series (the development tour for the Ladies European Tour). The only time the family has ever been away together with no golf involved was when the twins graduated from Duke University last year.

Breda says she's there for her kids for the things that are "not golf-orientated". "For me, what (Leona) will hear from me the whole time is, 'Text me when you board and land'. It's the last thing I say to them every time they leave and every time they do I text them back a heart," Breda adds.

"We're very fortunate that golf has given our children wonderful opportunities. It opened up the world to them at a very young age".

Perfectionist

And the world has a knack of making way for talent like Leona's. One of the challenges she's trying to negotiate is the competing realities of being a pro player and a perfectionist.

"You have to sometimes be mindful of what's the most important thing. You can't do everything as well as maybe you'd like. I'll play 30 something events this year. I'd play every event if I could, listening to my coach and my physio and whoever is saying, 'No, maybe we need to take a week off this week, we don't have to try and win all of them and go everywhere'.

"I've been lucky that I've had a good team around me as well, advising me and keeping me in check when I lose the run of it like that and just want to do too much, they can rein me in."

Seeing as Leona got the first question in, I get in the last. As always, her sister got unknowingly involved.

"What would you say is your best quality?"

"As a golfer, or?"

"Whichever"

"I don't know"

"What would your sister say?"

"Patience, maybe, for golf and in life. I'm willing to work hard and then sort of wait for it to come."

Waiting time doesn't tend to last too long when it comes to Leona Maguire.

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