Stephanie Meadow backs Leona Maguire to continue hot streak despite disappointing Women’s US PGA final round

Meadow finishing tied-third behind China’s Ruoning Yin and Maguire tied-11th

The two go back a long way. During Peacock TV’s transmission of the final round of the KPMG PGA Women’s Championship, a photograph of Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire was put up on screen of the pair at the 2012 Irish Ladies Close Final at Baltray to show how far their connect goes and, in a way, to demonstrate how far they have come.

The journey is not yet finished; and while neither ultimately managed to land that breakthrough Major win by an Irish woman golfer, with Meadow finishing tied-third behind China’s Ruoning Yin and Maguire tied-11th, the fact that two Irish players were together in the final group of a Major’s final round smacks of true progress.

And while Meadow’s second career third-place finish (to go with her US Open finish of 2014, her professional debut) reaffirmed her own Major ambitions, the 31-year-old from Co Antrim also took the time to appraise Maguire’s immediate future after the Co Cavan golfer held the 36- and 54-hole leads at Baltusrol in venturing into new territory.

“It’s golf,” said Meadow of explaining Maguire’s tough final round. “The pressure was on, obviously. It’s hard. Golf is golf. She’s had an incredible two weeks [following up the win in the Meijer Classic with contending in the PGA] ... her first round in probably eight days, probably more than that, where she hasn’t quite put it together. Honestly, it wasn’t that far off. She still hit a lot of great shots, just missed some shots and three-putted a few times.”

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And with the US Women’s Open next week next up on the LPGA Tour schedule, Meadow predicted: “I know her; she’ll be right back to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she does great at the US Open as well!”

While Maguire will clearly learn (as she always does) from the experience of Baltusrol, so too will Meadow whose first top-10 finish of the season had the immediate impact of moving her to 46th in the updated CME order of merit, while the $423,070 cheque for a share of third represented the biggest of her career.

“It’s been a long journey and a lot of ups and downs personally and professionally. Yeah, I’m proud of myself. It’s been a great week,” said Meadow. “I did my best. I laid it all out there, and that’s all I can do, and I’m excited to go home for two weeks.”

The timely break in the LPGA Tour calendar (with no tournament this week) means Meadow can recalibrate for the challenges ahead although, unfortunately, she hasn’t as yet qualified for the US Open. The final qualifying criteria is the cut-off on July 3rd for those inside the top-75 on the Rolex world rankings who are not already exempt. Meadow moved up to 89th after the PGA having started last week in 151st position.

There will be at least two Irish players in the field at Pebble Beach, with Maguire set to be joined by Irish amateur international Áine Donegan, who came through the qualifying series in San Mateo, California, earlier this month.

If not getting a late spot into Pebble Beach, Meadow’s next appearance will the Dana Open in Ohio where, as it happens, Kildare woman Lauren Walsh – who finished her collegiate career in leading Wake Forest to the NCAA Division One title – will be making her professional debut on a sponsor’s invitation.

For Pádraig Harrington, meanwhile, his successful defence of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in En-Joie in upstate New York has the 51-year-old Dubliner bringing momentum with him into his defence of the US Seniors Open for the Francis Ouimet Memorial Trophy at Stevens Point in Wisconsin, starting on Thursday.

Harrington has been successfully juggling time on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour with his time on the Champions Tour. Darren Clarke will also be in the field.

On the DP World Tour this week Tom McKibbin and John Murphy are playing in the Betfred British Masters at The Belfry, while Paul Dunne, Ruaidhrí McGee, Conor Purcell, Niall Kearney, Dermot McElroy and Cormac Sharvin are competing in the Le Vaudreoil Challenge in France on the Challenge Tour.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times