Leona Maguire fulfilled her destiny and etched her name in the history books when she carded a five-under 67 to win the LPGA Drive On Championship by three shots from Lexi Thompson on 18-under par and become the first Irishwoman to win on the LPGA Tour.
Playing in her 50th LPGA start and her 78th event as a professional, it was another first for the 27-year old from Ballyconnell in Co Cavan.
She was the first Irishwoman to top the World Amateur Golf Rankings — reigning for a record 135 weeks — and the first to play in a Solheim Cup, where she produced a record-setting rookie performance in Europe’s emphatic win at Inverness last year.
Now she’s the first to win on the biggest stage of all and she certainly won’t be a one-hit-wonder.
Tipped for the top since she and her twin sister Lisa made their professional debuts in the Shoprite LGA Classic in Atlantic City three years and seven months ago, the Slieve Russell star went into the final round of the 54-hole event tied for the lead with American Marina Alex, four strokes clear of Brittany Altomare, Stacy Lewis and Sweden's Linnea Johansson but pulled away on the back nine with a majestic display of ball-striking.
There were low scores on offer at Crown Colony Golf & Country Club in Fort Myers on Florida’s gulf coast and a string of players took advantage with Sarah Schmelzel carding an eight-under 64 to finish solo third and Xiyu Lin a 63 to finish a shot further back in a tie for fourth.
Maguire got off to a slow start and was level par through six holes after following a birdie at the second with a bogey at the par-three third, but while she birdied the short seventh and the par-four eighth, she turned for home on two-under, just one ahead of Alex and two clear of major winner Lexi Thompson on 15-under.
With two wins on the second-tier Symetra Tour (now the Epson Tour) in 2019 under her belt, not to mention 10 collegiate wins for Duke University and a string of other victories, including the British Ladies Amateur and two Irish Women’s Close titles, she showed her class on the back nine, peppering the pin with a series of high-quality shots.
At the 10th, she hit a 101–yard wedge to eighth feet and knocked in the putt to lead by two shots from Alex and Thompson, who eagled the par-four 10th and birdied the 11th to get to 14-under.
Maguire was not found wanting under pressure, however, and hit a 129-yard approach to a foot at the island green 11th to extend her lead to three shots.
At the 12th, she shaved the hole with a 15 footer but made amends at the 255-yard 13th when she hit a driver just over the green and coaxed a 25-foot approach putt close to remain three ahead.
She had a chance to extend her lead on the next two greens but after hitting a fairway wood pin high at the 14th, she mis-read an eight-footer, then missed again for birdie from just six feet after a stunning approach from 162 yards.
When Thompson bogeyed the 17th, Leona was four ahead with three holes to go and all but sealed the deal at the 16th, watching a 12 footer lip in for birdie to move five clear on 19-under.
After a par at the short 17th, she headed down the par-five 18th with a five-shot lead over Schmelzel and Thompson, and while she would miss the green with her third after a lay-up, she chipped to four feet, missed for par but was all smiles as she tapped in for what will be the first of many wins.
There was an embrace with caddie Dermot Byrne, who has been a huge influence on her game since he took the bag last year.
"It’s been a bit surreal,” said Leona who is projected to jump to No. 3 in the Race to the CME Globe after picking up $225,000 to take her career earnings to $1,306,4098 and potentially move into the world’s top 20 from 37th.
“It’s been 17 years in the making and I kind of wondered if it’s ever going to happen.
“But I’m really proud of how I played all week especially today. Dermot (Byrne) was incredible on the bag. He kept me calm all week.
“I have a lot of people to thank. It’s been a long road but I feel probably more relief now than anything else," she said.
After racking up two runner-up finishes last year, she knew a win was close.
“I learned just to stay really patient and I felt I really did a really good job of that this week,” she said.
“I knew my game was close. I did a lot of hard work in the off-season and yeah I finally got it there in the end.”
As for becoming the first Irishwoman to win on the LPGA Tour she said: "It’s huge for Irish golf. There was never an Irish player on the tour let alone a winner hopefully there are a lot of people at home watching tonight with big smiles on their faces and little girls watching hoping that they can hold a putt like that."