Sara Byrne: ‘What Leona Maguire is doing, it is definitely a motivator’

Cork woman is looking towards a new stage of her career after graduation next year

It wasn’t that long ago that there were no Irish women professional golfers on tour. Zilch! All has changed, changed utterly, thanks to the exploits of Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow – both playing on the PGA Tour – with the prospect of a seeming conveyor belt of young talent these days ready to step on to the production line in moving on from the amateur ranks to professional.

One of them is Sara Byrne. Not quite yet. But soon. In 2024, most likely.

The 22-year-old from Douglas Golf Club is entering the final months of her undergraduate programme at the University of Miami in Florida, where she is majoring in accounting and finance. But the real number crunching that she is looking forward to is totting up scorecards in the professional ranks, on the LPGA Tour or the Ladies European Tour, in the years ahead.

Byrne will graduate next May but intends to remain amateur until after the 2024 Curtis Cup, which – as it happens – has a rather unfortunate clash of dates with the KPMG Irish Women’s Open at Carton House (August 29th-September 1st).


The Cork woman may have many talents but, sadly, the gift of bilocation is not one of them. So, if she makes that Britain and Ireland team, which is expected, then a pro appearance in Maynooth will have to wait for another time.

Earlier this week, Byrne was the recipient of the Irish Golf Writers’ Association women’s amateur player of the year award following a hugely impressive season where she won the Irish Close title for a second time as well as finishing leading amateur in the Irish Open at Dromoland Castle. She also claimed two collegiate titles with wins in the Pat Bradley Invitational and the Hurricane Invitational.

Byrne is one of a number of players to take the collegiate route in the footsteps of Maguire and Meadow. Áine Donegan, who brilliantly made the cut in the US Open at Pebble Beach, Beth Coulter and Anabel Wilson are others in the US university system, while Lauren Walsh (who graduated earlier this year from Wake Forest) this weekend competes in the LET’s final qualifying school in Marrakesh, Morocco, in her bid to claim a full tour card.

It is a case of playing the patience game and biding her time for Byrne, though.

Byrne – who’d won the Munster Girls’ title in 2017 – sensationally burst on to the senior women’s scene in 2018, when she beat Malone’s Louise Coffey in the final of the Irish Close at Enniscrone. She was 18. And that national title win, perfectly timed, made those golf coaches stateside sit up and take notice with a flood of offers of golfing scholarships coming her way, with the University of Miami the undoubted winners.

That breakthrough Irish Close came pretty much out of the blue. However, her second Irish Close success – achieved in Connemara this summer – was a case of delivering on potential, as she beat Coulter in a terrific final. Byrne, indeed, needed five birdies in that final to finally eclipse Coulter.

“I feel like I’m a totally different player to what I was five years ago. When I look back and see how I won the Close the first time, I don’t know how I did that, compared to the golf that was played this year to get it. It has been quite the turnaround,” said Byrne.

That win kickstarted a strong summer-autumn campaign, as she competed (as an amateur) in the two LET Access tournaments (making the cut in both, finishing sixth in the Vasteras Open and 12th in the Capio Ogon Trophy) to get a flavour of playing against the professionals.

Then, in the KPMG Irish Women’s Open, Byrne overcame a poor start in the first round to click into gear and ultimately finish as the leading amateur in tied-36th.

“I know a home Irish Open like that is not how every week on tour is like. I knew it was going to be a very special week, which it was. It is probably one of the most favourite memories I will ever have in my golfing career.

“I absolutely just enjoyed every single second of it. Again, I could have played a little bit better, but my mindset was that I really belonged there. It is what I want to keep on doing,” recalled Byrne of that Dromoland Castle experience.

The following morning, she was on a 7am flight back to Miami. But it was with a sense that her game – on the back of the Irish Close, her LET Access outings and the Irish Open performance – had moved up a level. It would prove to be so, as she won those two collegiate titles back-to-back on the schedule but also with the World Amateur Team Championship in Abu Dhabi in between in what was a hectic schedule.

“The Irish Close win kicked me on, it got me back in the winning circle, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to let that feeling go’. This probably could have happened last year, my fall season in college, my results weren’t that great but like my golf was there and I was talking to my college coach and he was like, ‘it’s going to come’. I just needed to be patient with it and with the Close kicking it off my summer back home this time, that was the starting point and it all just started to click,” said Byrne.

Indeed, Byrne is the first to acknowledge that high standard of Irish women’s amateur golfers has pushed one another onwards and upwards.

As she put it: “The quality of golf being played this year by Irish women golfers is insane. The amount of competition we had, the competitiveness, and I think as well it pushes all of us on. After the Close and then Áine [Donegan] going to the US Open, it just kicked us all on and motivated us all to keep to going and keep pushing.”

And, of course, there is the Leona factor that is making each one believe. “It puts it into a more realistic point, that the dream is a goal that is achievable. What Leona is doing, you can see her on the LPGA Tour and winning the Solheim Cup. It is definitely a motivator. It’s about putting in all the hard work to fulfil the dream,” acknowledged Byrne.

For the huge fan of Formula One, it is all about keeping her eyes on her own sporting dreams as she drives ever onwards to that hope of a professional golfing career. “It is where I want to be,” said Byrne.

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