Between all the toing and froing, the crisscrossing of timelines and the presenting of her passport at numerous border entries around the globe, Leona Maguire clocked up upwards of 120,000 kilometres in getting from one tournament to another throughout the year.
No wonder, so, that the return to the drumlins and lakelands of Co Cavan for the winter has amounted to getting back to some peace and tranquility to recharge the batteries.
For Maguire, the ultimate numbers game came with the digits pencilled onto scorecards. In truth, it was a remarkable year’s work: 26 tournaments in total, on courses far flung, from Singapore to South Korea, Hawaii to North Carolina, and closer to home, with the return of the KPMG Irish Women’s Open to the Ladies European Tour schedule after a decade’s absence a hat tip to how Maguire’s impact has grown.
A pioneer? A trailblazer? Both, and more. Maguire’s year started with a bang – becoming the first Irish golfer to win on the LPGA Tour in the Drive On Championship at Crown Colony in Florida in February – and continued right through from week to week and month to month as she left an indelible footprint of her own on golf globally.
“Any time you are the first to do something is always special,” said Maguire of that breakthrough win on the LPGA Tour.
“It would be nice to have more Irish girls out on tour. The lads have been very lucky, there has always been a group of them out there. Paddy [Harrington], Paul [McGinley], Graeme [McDowell], Darren [Clarke] and Shane [Lowry]), Rory [McIlroy] and now Séamus [Power].
“It would be nice to have that gang out there on tour to play practice rounds with and go to dinner with and to bounce ideas off each other. It is just myself and Stephanie [Meadow] out there so hopefully in the next few years there will be a few more.
“I am just trying to do as well as I possibly can. If people are inspired by that, that’s great. I have always drawn inspiration from others as well. I think it doesn’t only impact golf; the strength in depth of Irish women in sport is probably at an all-time high.
“We seem to be getting better and better every year. I am doing it in golf but there is lots of other people doing it in all different sports and I think you can take inspiration from them.”
An inspiration, for sure. The win came in just her second tournament of the year.
“People talk about these things in sport as being inevitable and it is only a matter of time and be patient and all the rest but it is never a done deal until it actually happens. It was nice to get that box ticked off so early in the year. I played great that week and the funny thing was I wasn’t all that comfortable going into that week.”
In fact, Maguire had finished tied-27th in her season-opening event in the Gainbridge at Boca Rio. On the Monday of the Drive On, she’d felt it necessary to Facetime her coach Shane O’Grady. He was on a school run and spent the next hour on the mobile phone talking swing thoughts and watching his player on the range at the exclusive gated-community club in Fort Myers.
“I just went from there. I didn’t put too much pressure or expectations on myself that week and it paid off.”
Maguire shot rounds of 66-65-67 for a 54-holes total of 18-under-par 198, three strokes clear of runner-up Lexi Thompson, a timely – day early – birthday present too for her mother Breda.
If you think it was the cue for mad celebrations, think again.
“It was a bit surreal, strange even,” admitted Maguire who was left to soak it all in alone. Her caddie Dermot Byrne had to hightail it away to catch a flight.
“I was out there by myself. Dermot jumped on a flight to Miami. Shane wasn’t there. Lisa wasn’t there. Mam and Dad were at home watching on the telly, a packed house at home and everyone calling over but I was by myself.
“I stayed over, drove back up to Orlando, met a few of my friends for dinner and it is funny. You build it up in your head to be this big thing but when it actually happens it is a little strange. To see the satisfaction other people got was just as worthwhile as it was for myself.”
The historic significance of the victory, though, was immense. A first Irish win on the LPGA Tour.
“To get that win so early in the season was the highlight. I’d played some really great golf in 2021 and to carry that momentum into this year was nice.”
Indeed, Maguire’s performances were consistently good and, although another win evaded her, there were other big showings – contending in the Majors, including a top-10 finish in the US Open and a top-5 in the AIG Women’s British Open – in a season that featured no fewer than 10 top-10s.
Maguire had targeted the Majors, two in particular. The US Open was at Pine Needles in North Carolina, familiar to her from her college days at Duke University. The AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield, an historic first ever women’s championship at the venerable links.
“I really enjoyed the Majors this year. I suppose it is like anything, the more times you do it the more comfortable you feel. I played really nicely in Pine Needles on what was probably one of the hardest golf courses we played all year. I think tough golf suits me. You have to think a little bit more which always works in my favour.
“I had never made a cut in the US Open before so to all of a sudden go to a top-10 was a big jump forward and obviously the British Open was one of those weeks of what could have been. Obviously a great last round but there was definitely a few chances I could have taken advantage of that week that could have made that week even better,” said Maguire.
In truth, Maguire was right in the hunt through much of that final round on the links of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
Ultimately South African Ashleigh Buhai beat South Korea’s In Gee Chun in a play-off for the title. But Maguire had charged into the business end of proceedings with a stunning closing round of 66 which featured an eagle and three birdies in the opening 13 holes only for the ball to stubbornly refuse to drop for birdies a number of times on the run-in, lipping out and agonisingly grazing the hole at times.
It was, all the same, a magnificent effort from Maguire on another iconic course which has become a trend in recent years of the Majors going to true big-time venues. In 2023, indeed, the US Open will be staged at Pebble Beach.
“A few years ago Muirfeld didn’t even have women members so to play a Women’s Open there would have been inconceivable. But they are the venues we grew up watching the lads play on telly.
“I remember watching Graeme winning his US Open at Pebble so it will be nice to finally get the chance to go there and compete for a US Open and then obviously Baltusrol as well in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and Walton Heath for the British Open.
“That’s where you want to be, testing yourself against the best players in the world on the best venues in the world. I think KPMG set the bar with that when they started bringing their tournament, the KPMG Women‘s PGA, to bigger venues. Now the USGA and the R&A are battling to get the best venues and that can only be a good thing for us. It is a win-win for everyone.”
Maguire’s brilliant year – her runner-up finish to Lydia Ko in the LPGA Tour’s season-ending CME Globe Tour Championship brought her season’s prize money to $1,812,831 – was another step in her upward trajectory on the world stage and she credited the support of her team and family in her achievements.
“A lot of my team are based in Ireland, there is none of them based in the US, so I don’t probably get to see them face to face as much as I would like. Most of my team have been there for a while. I have always kept myself small which I think has been a good thing.
“The people that are around me I very much trust and I know I am on the right track and I listen to them and rely on their feedback and Mam and Dad have been a massive part of that too and Lisa.
“I remember when we were watching Serena Williams finish up at the US Open she said there would be no Serena without Venus. Well there would be no me without Lisa, she has been a massive part of the journey as well. She was at the US Open, she was at the British Open and it is nice having her at the events and be a sounding board too.”
The winter time with all the comforts of being home in Cavan provide the chance to recharge batteries before the new season swings along with next month’s Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona which is also her US base.
“Last year I was there. I was practicing and stuff but they were up on the top range at the golf course and we were down at the bottom range so it was one of those things at the start of the year setting a goal, saying to myself, ‘I don’t want to be down here on the bottom range, I want to be up playing in the tournament next year’.”
Typical of her, that box was ticked early on to earn her place in the 2023 edition of the tournament heading into a Solheim Cup year and aiming to continue the momentum of a marvellous 2022.