She will be the fan favorite, which can’t hurt given how well she’s playing. Leona Maguire shot a 66 on Sunday at Muirfield in the AIG Women’s Open, the low round of the final day, which vaulted her into a tie for fourth with Minjee Lee. Three days later, she was in Northern Ireland warming up for the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics to the excitement of the locals.
Maguire’s family place is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Antrim, down the A-4, a lovely, scenic excursion for anyone who wants to get away from the coast and see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. That makes Maguire as much of a hometown hero as fans will find.
It doesn’t hurt that she embraces the role.
“I think it will be a fun week,” Maguire said to a small roundtable with local media on Wednesday. “Nice to play in front of home crowds. The nice weather as well is an added bonus, so hopefully (there will) be plenty of people out to support this week.”
That will include some family and friends who don’t normally get to see her play.
“Just nice to feed off the energy of the crowd,” Maguire said. “Hopefully there will be plenty of people to support. There are lots of the Irish (competitors) playing this week. Steph (Meadow) and (Olivia Mahaffey) are playing, too, so, yeah, hopefully the crowds rally behind us. And hopefully we can put on a good of display of golf for them.”
Maguire is returning to this part of Northern Ireland for the first time since 2019. No events were held in the region in 2020 due to COVID, and Maguire missed the 2021 ISPS Handa World Invitational because of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Since her last appearance, she has been the star of the victorious European Solheim Cup Team and won for the first time on the LPGA Tour at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Crown Colony, making her the first Irishwoman to do so in the Tour’s history. All that combines to make her homecoming even more special.
“I played in this event three years ago before it was sanctioned,” Maguire said, “so it’s nice to go out (and play) where it's a little bit familiar. Both courses are in really good shape, so, yeah, excited for a very different test this week than Muirfield last week.”
Massareen Golf Club and Galgorm Castle are parkland courses, lush and thick, with girthsome trees and rough so deep you could lose a puppy – in other words, as far away from the firm-and-fast links of East Lothian as you can get.
“It will be a very different test this week, get the ball in the air a little bit,” Maguire said. The fairways are pretty bouncy here, a bit more than I expected. Keeping the ball out of the rough this week will be the most important thing. Last week it was the bunkers, this week the rough. It’s a different challenge but I’m looking forward to it.
“Muirfield you couldn't switch off for a second,” she said. “Like most links courses, you really have to pick your targets and execute. I think Massareene is sneaky tricky this week. There are a couple of blind tee shots there, so you want to prepare as well as you possibly can. But at the same time conserve energy, too.
“There are more demands on my time this week as well than normally would at any other LPGA event. But it's nice to be home and nice to be in front of home fans this week. I'm sure the spa at Galgorm will get a bit of extra use.”
The professional women’s game hasn’t always been as accessible in Ireland. While the island nation is replete with golf history and has some of the most incredible links courses in the world, there have been past struggles that made it hard to build a consistent stable of professional women’s events in the country. Now, that seems to have changed. The tri-sanctioned ISPS Handa World Invitational is one of two women’s professional offerings in the next two months. The KPMG Women’s Irish Open will be played September 22 – 25 at Dromoland Castle.
“I got to play in three Irish Opens,” Maguire said. “It's big. I mean, when we were kids, dad brought us to the men's Irish Open because there was no women's one. Then I got to have that experience as an amateur. I think any time as an amateur you get to test your game against the best players in the world it's always a good thing.
“I'm sure there be lots of kids walking around this week getting pictures, autographs, maybe getting a ball or two. Those are memories that stay with you.
“That we have two (Irish) events back on the schedule, hopefully those events will build in strength the next few years.”