Monday 18 December 2017

Tee to green: Major force

Maguire sisters brightest hopes to put Irish women on the world map

Liam kelly

THE tiny island of Ireland now proudly boasts three Major winners since 2007, and five Major titles thanks to Padraig Harrington's two British Opens and a USPGA win and the US Open victories of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Amazing. Superb. Brilliant.

The only wonder was that it took 60 years between Fred Daly's British Open at Hoylake in 1947 and Harrington's epic win at Carnoustie, as some of our finest golfers had come very close down the decades.

Harry Bradshaw lost in a play-off to Bobby Locke in 1949 at Royal St George's, the Open of the famous 'ball in a bottle' incident.

Christy O'Connor Snr was joint third, just a shot behind Peter Thomson at Royal Lytham in 1958; Des Smyth finished just two adrift of Tom Watson in 1982 at Troon for joint fourth; Christy O'Connor Jnr was joint third, two behind Sandy Lyle, at Royal St George's in '85.

All so close, but so far.

It was left to Harrington to open the door to Irish Major winners again and once he did, just look what has happened.

In many ways, the Dubliner did for Irish golf what Roger Bannister did for athletes and the four-minute mile barrier.

Once Bannister broke four minutes for the mile, the floodgates opened. Now, everybody expects that athletes will run the distance in less than four minutes.

We haven't quite got that complacent about Major golf titles, but it's fair to say that Harrington, McIlroy and McDowell will be contending for, and possibly winning, more of golf's big four championships in years to come.

So now, what are the chances of an Irish woman winning a ladies' professional Major. This is a real Mount Everest challenge, particularly since no Irish woman professional has even won a Ladies European Tour (LET) event, never mind an LPGA regular Tour title.

You might say that the idea of an Irish woman winning a Major is ridiculously far-fetched -- but is it?

Surely it is now time to drop that dream into the psyche of our young girl golfers.

And with the Maguire twins from Cavan following the route taken by McIlroy in their game development, the day might not be too far away before Leona or Lisa (or both) can join Harrington, McDowell and McIlroy on the Major trail.

The parallels with McIlroy are quite evident. They are precocious young talents, with a dedicated work ethic. They are excellent competitors, who play against and beat competitors much older and more experienced than themselves. They have been exposed to professional tournaments as young amateurs, have been carefully guided by their parents; have had victories at international level and have been selected on international teams.

Last Sunday, Leona triumphed in the Irish Women's Open Strokeplay championship at Elm Park, an international event; Lisa was third with Stephanie Meadow runner-up.

Leona shot seven-under par 64 in round one of the 54-hole championship to take an unassailable lead and added scores of 70 and 72 to win by eight shots.

Already this season Leona has won the Portuguese Amateur Championship and Lisa the Spanish Amateur to add to their haul of titles since they burst on the Irish women's amateur scene as 12-year-olds.

The twins are not the only good young Irish players, but their progress is Rory-esque in the level of talent and scale of ambition.

On the amateur scene the players most likely to succeed at top women's tour level are the twins, Meadow and Danielle McVeigh.

Rebecca Codd (nee Coakley), is the best of Ireland's LET players at the moment, and looks the best bet to be the first for a Tour win.

The important factor is that someone, somehow, breaks the mindset that Irish women professionals don't or can't win on Tour and then we need a regular LPGA presence followed by a women's Major to inspire further generations of female golfers.

If the guys can do it, the women can too. Belief, good coaching and development structures and most of all, the example of a winner -- or preferably winners -- can bring Irish women's golf to new levels.

Irish Independent

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