Maguire’s confidence high as she embraces Major challenge

Following her impressive success in the Meijer Classic last week, Cavan woman targets PMG Women’s PGA Championship at famed Baltusrol Golf Club

The journey never ends, not for those pioneering.

Leona Maguire steps into new territory for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at famed Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, where the 28-year-old Cavan golfer will seek to follow up an LPGA Tour win with a Major victory the next week.

It’s a tough, new challenge for Maguire, elevated to world number 12 after her impressive win in the Meijer Classic. The good news for the Irish trailblazer? Well, it’s a feat that has been achieved no fewer than nine times, most recently as it happens by Nelly Korda in 2021 who followed up own Meijer victory by landing the KPMG PGA the following week.

All of those statistics in backing up one win with another would indicate that momentum is indeed a great thing in golf; and, certainly, Maguire has that buzz word with her heading into Baltusrol – where she has been grouped with Austin Ernst and Hinako Shibuno for the first two rounds – in a rich vein of form.


It is no accident. Maguire has worked out the intricacies and demands of making a schedule that has ensured being in peak shape, both mentally and physically, heading into tournaments. What’s more, for this latest Major, the second of the season but one which starts a period of the season where they come thick and fast with the US Open, the Evian and the AIG Women’s Open all on the horizon.

For this KPMG PGA, Maguire paid a reconnaissance visit to Baltusrol on the Monday following the recent Mizuho Americas Open in nearby Liberty National and, not unexpectedly, found the old course to be something of a “beast” befitting of a Major championship.

As Korda, returning to competitive duty after a short break, put it: “You need length. You need to hit the fairways, and you need to position really well. The greens are really big, and they’re undulated. They’re going to be fast . . . it’s just going to take an overall really good score to win. Your game has to be [firing] on all cylinders.”

And Stacy Lewis – a two-time career Major champion, in the Chevron and the AIG Women’s, but still chasing a KPMG PGA – identified the greens for special mention: “Just the intricacies of the breaks and trying to read them. They’re very tricky. Then, I love the look of the bunkers with the little wispy grass on top because there’s a ton of blind shots, so with that grass you honestly wouldn’t be able to see any of the bunkers or know where the trouble is, so it kind of points it out for you at least.”

Driving length is perhaps the only category of Maguire’s game that may be found wanting on such a long course but the other departments make up for it.

While she is only ranked 123rd in driving distance this season on the LPGA Tour (averaging 252 yards), Maguire features strongly in other categories, among them 18th in driving accuracy (hitting over 82 per cent of fairways), 16th in putts per greens-in-regulation and, perhaps most pertinently, ninth in scoring average (70.9).

After her win in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday, Maguire referred to the importance of conserving energy in the days in advance of of getting up for the challenge of a Major.

Her best finish in the championship is tied-15 back in 2021 but, with top-10s in the Evian, US Open and AIG Open since then, along with the fact she is now a multiple winner on the LPGA Tour, the omens are good for a strong challenge – even with poor weather forecast – from Maguire.

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Lowdown

Purse: €8.25 million (€1.25 million to the winner)

Where: Springfield, New Jersey

The course: The Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club – 6,831 yards, par 72 – is a historic course originally designed by AW Tillinghast and has undergone restoration projects through the years by Robert Trent Jones and his son Rees Jones and more recently by Gil Hanse in 2021. The course has played host to men’s and women’s Majors through the years and is seen as a great examination of players’ skill sets with the par-three fourth (over water) and the finishing par-five 18th among the many great holes.

The field: As you’d expect for the second women’s Major of the season, a standout field featuring 19 of the world’s top-20 players, headed by world number one Jin Young Ko. There are a couple of welcome returns from injury in the cases of Nelly Korda and defending champion In Gee Chun, both out of action for over a month. Rose Zhang, who won on her professional debut a fortnight ago, is competing in her first KPMG PGA.

Quote-Unquote: “I think the women’s game is really making a step forward where we get to play all these historic venues” – Nelly Korda on the policy of bringing the women’s Majors to iconic courses; next up after Baltusrol is Pebble Beach for the US Open.

Irish in the field: Stephanie Meadow is in a group with Megan Khang and Gaby Lopes (off the 10th at 12.38pm Irish time); Leona Maguire is grouped with Austin Ernst and Hinako Shibuno (off the first tee at 1.28pm).

Betting: Atthaya Thitikul’s strong season – seven top-10s in her last nine outings – has her installed as the 11-1 market leader ahead of world number one Jin Young Ko. Hyo Joo Kim has top-10s in her last two weeks and is 14-1 while Leona Maguire comes in on the back of a win in the Meijer Classic and top-10s in her previous two tournaments and is available at 16-1. In terms of each-way value, Ashleigh Buhai is worth a look at 28-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5pm and 10pm.

Travelers Championship Lowdown

Purse: €18.5 million (€3.3 million to the winner)

Where: Cromwell, Connecticut

The course: TPC River Highlands – 6,852 yards, par 70 – was designed by Robert Ross and Maurice Kearney and traditionally provides something of a birdie-fest on a course rated the third shortest on the PGA Tour schedule. Jim Furyk’s 58 is the course record holder (final round in 2016) which is also the lowest round ever on the PGA Tour. The meat of the course comes late on, with the stretch from the 15th to the 17th created around a lake of four acres.

The field: The leading eight players from the world rankings, headed by world number one Scottie Scheffler and FedEx Cup leader Jon Rahm, are competing in a tournament that is the fourth and last of the designated PGA Tour events. Rory McIlroy will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing final round in the US Open, where he finished runner-up to Wyndham Clark.

Quote-Unquote: “It’s too bad that they got put in a tough time in the schedule for me after the US Open the last few years. For the most part I’ve gone to European and played Irish Opens, Spanish Open and things likes that. So that’s why I haven’t been [back] as much as I would like, but I am looking forward to it. It’s a great golf course.” – Jon Rahm on returning to The Travelers.

Irish in the field: Shane Lowry is in the fourth week of a busy stretch of events and is grouped with Brandon Todd and Scott Stallings in the first round (off the first tee at 1.05pm Irish time); Rory McIlroy is grouped with Viktor Hovland and Tom Kim (off the first at 5.50pm); Séamus Power, looking to bounce back from a missed cut at the US Open, is in a group with Corey Conners and Zach Johnson (off the first at 6.10pm).

Betting: Scottie Scheffler is the market leader at a tight 6-1 but better value could be found with defending champion Xander Schauffele who hasn’t missed a cut all season and has posted seven top-fives and is due a return to the winner’s circle. Sahith Theegala pressed Schauffele all the way a year ago until undone by a double-bogey finish and looks to have the game for the birdie fest, so is worth an each-way look at 50s.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 6pm.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times