NAPLES, FLORIDA | Tour life always takes time. Not for the golf. They have the golf down for the most part. It’s all the other stuff that players on professional tours have to figure out.
One of the biggest questions they have to answer is: Where am I going to live?
That answer is not always easy. American players have an advantage in that they instinctively understand the nuances of different parts of the country, as well as which cities are convenient for travel. Nelly Korda, for example, has stayed in Bradenton, Florida, close enough to her parents to get some home cooking while still a leisurely drive to the Tampa airport. Those who grew up in other countries have more of a challenge. In Gee Chun hung out for years in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a family she befriended during the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open. It wasn’t until just over a year ago that Chun bought a house in Dallas, near Sei Young Kim and So Yeon Ryu. Three-time major champion Anna Nordqvist from Sweden lives in Phoenix where she went to school at Arizona State. Nordqvist has a wealth of friends in Arizona and considers the state her home.
Leona Maguire, who spent four years in Durham, North Carolina, playing at Duke and then went through a year on the Epson Tour, tried Arizona for a while. It was certainly warmer and more convenient than her native County Cavan, Ireland, where the hottest month of the year is July with an average temperature of 59 degrees and rainfall on 19 of the 31 days. Turns out, desert life was not for her.
Now Maguire lives at Lake Nona in Orlando. That move has made all the difference.
“I think the facilities are so good there,” Maguire said on Saturday after a 66 in the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship. “That was something that (I lost in) the transition from college to the pro ranks. Obviously in college I had a lot of people to play with, a lot of people to practice with, Monday games, all that sort of thing. We had our qualifiers in college that used to be more competitive, playing with Celine (Boutier) and people like that every week when we were at home.
“So (I can now) kind of replicate that a little bit at Nona. Nasa (Hataoka) is there. Lydia (Ko) is there. Anne (van Dam) is there. The Jutanugarns are there. Annika (Sorenstam spends nine months a year there). I played a few rounds with Annika early in the year, which really helped. I think just being in that environment has been good for me. Really nice facilities to work on my game. (Living there) there are really no excuses. It's a lot nicer weather than Ireland in December, January and February.”
Maguire enters the final round on Sunday at 12-under par, two shots off the four-way tie for the lead held by Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko, Nasa Hataoka and Boutier.
A two-time winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the best amateur in the world, Maguire won twice on the Epson Tour in 2019 but has yet to find the winner’s circle on the LPGA Tour. But it’s coming. Everybody can see it. Her ball-striking is too good, and she hits too many good putts for everything not to click soon.
“I hit my irons a lot better this year,” Maguire said about her game in 2021 where she had four top-10s and a breakout performance at the Solheim Cup. “I’ve hit a lot more greens. My irons have always been a strength of mine. They kind of went a bit off last year. I messed around with different irons and the irons I played at the end of the last year just didn't really work. Then I went back to graphite shafts and they have been a lot more consistent. I’m back to giving myself a lot more birdie chances, kept working on my putting, holing more putts. And I put a little bit of extra distance on.
“So, all in all I feel like all parts of my game have gotten a bit better and feel a bit more comfortable every week. Playing with the best players in the world I think raises your game without you even realizing it.”
As for posting a 66 in winds that looked like they might down a tree or two and still being two shots out, Maguire smiled and said, “These are the best players in the world. I think there are a lot of people in really good form right now. Jin Young, Nelly, Lexi, Lydia: I mean, it's a who's who of the LPGA Tour here this week. I think everybody has come to play. I played with Celine the first day and she really did nothing wrong.
“So, I think the course is set up as tough as it can be. There are a few tees up. But I think it's just world-class golfers hitting world-class shots.”
Where does Maguire put herself on that who’s who list?
“I mean, I haven't (got) as much on my resume as a lot of them,” she said. “I'm getting there. I'm working my way up.”