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Hugel-Air Premia LA Open

An amateur phenom is beginning to find her way on the LPGA Tour

April 22, 2021

Leona Maguire has recorded two of her three career top-10 finishes so far in 2021.

Andy Lyons/PGA of America

LOS ANGELES — Leona Maguire walked up the 72nd hole of the Lotte Championship last Saturday and saw the leader board behind the green. Save for runaway winner Lydia Ko, no one stood above the 26-year-old Irishwoman, who tied for second at 21 under par with the likes of Inbee Park, Nelly Korda and Sei Young Kim. In the moment, her caddie, Gary Marshall turned and said, “Anytime you’re finishing level with Inbee and those names, you’re doing something right.”

Maguire has been doing plenty right in 2021. In her last four starts heading into this week’s Hugel Premia LA Open, she recorded two of her three career top-10s with her career-best T-2 finish in Hawaii and a T-6 at the LPGA Drive On at Golden Ocala. Three years since turning pro after a highly successful college and amateur golfer (she was three-time NCAA player of the year at Duke and has the longest stint of any woman atop the World Amateur Golf Ranking in history), Maguire finally is seeing similar results as a pro.

Why now? She attributed the improved play in part to a decision in the offseason to switch from steel shafts, which she had in her bag last season, to graphite in the hopes of more consistent ball-striking. She also made them a fraction shorter to better control her irons with higher, softer shots into greens.

“Sometimes last year, I just went for pins, and when they were tucked behind bunkers, I couldn’t stop it,” Maguire said of her higher-flighted approach shots. “It just makes it a little bit easier.”

So far in 2021, the two-time Symetra Tour winner has hit 12 percent more greens in regulation than in 2020 (from 60 percent to 72). Last week at Kapolei Golf Club, she had an 80.56 percent GIR rate. Not surprisingly she has seen a corresponding rise in her place on the Rolex Women’s Ranking, from 177th to start the season to 93rd.

Maguire’s quality of play has caught the eye of 2021 European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, who was on-site watching Maguire and others at the ANA Inspiration earlier this month. Matthew texted Maguire after the Lotte Championship to keep doing what’s she’s doing out there.

If her progress continues, Maguire will have a chance to make LPGA history. Surprisingly, no Irishwoman has ever won a tour event. Maguire is aware of the impact becoming the first from her country to claim victory might have. “It’d be massive,” she said. “I suppose we’ve had a lot of winners on the men’s side, up until a few years ago, we never even have a player on the LPGA, let alone a winner.”

In the opening round at Wilshire Country Club, Maguire shot a two-under 69, leaving her five back of leader Jessica Korda. Regardless of whether she finds the winner's circle this week, Maguire will take a break after the tournament, flying back home to Ireland after 12 weeks on the road.

“I miss the food, I miss the family, I miss my own bed,” Maguire said.

She's looking forward to her favorite food, whatever dish her Mom cooks when she returns. It'll be a well-earned meal.