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Champion Maguire in no hurry to join professional ranks

 

By Brian Keogh

It's taken a while but, following her historic Ladies' British Amateur Open Championship victory in Wales on Saturday, Ireland is waking up to the fact that it has a potential superstar in Leona Maguire.

The 22-year-old from Ballyconnell in Co Cavan begins her 99th week as the world amateur No 1 this week and should she remain there until she completes her psychology degree at Duke University in North Carolina next May, it's more than likely that she will smash Lydia Ko's record of 130 weeks as the game's best amateur.

After playing alongside Ko in golf's return to the Olympic Games at Rio de Janiero, Leona saw what she needs to improve before she takes up a string of invitations to play on the LPGA Tour as a professional.

"The big focus has been on my putting for the last few months," she said, recalling how impressed she was by Ko's short game and course management when they played together in Rio.

"I could see she didn't hit the ball that much further than me but from 100 yards and in she was beside the pin every time and then in the hole," 260-yard hitter Leona said. "That's the difference."

Maguire was expected to turn professional at the end of last year but opted instead to withdraw from the LPGA Tour's Final Q-School and remain at Duke to complete her studies.

It's proven to be a wise move and after taking her tally of collegiate wins to seven with three victories this year, she captured the three big season-ending awards - the GolfStat Cup for her stroke average of 70.13, (the lowest since Lorena Ochoa in 2001-02), the Women's Collegiate Golf Coaches' Award and the Annika Award presented to the top female US collegiate golfer.

In capturing all three awards for the second time in three years, Maguire has shown that she is clearly the best female amateur to emerge since Ko dominated from 2011 to 2013.

US collegiate golf is of such a high standard that the leading players immediately triumph on the LPGA Tour.

But it has taken a win closer to home to bring the Slieve Russell star the plaudits she deserves.

In beating Spain's Ainhoa Olarra 3 and 2 in the final on Saturday, Maguire became just the eighth Irish woman to capture that title since May Hezlet won the first of her three crowns in 1899.

"It doesn't really get much bigger," she said.

"There was a world-class field here and some great golf played. I'm just delighted to come out on top.

"These are the days you're out in early mornings in cold weather for, to make days like today very much worthwhile.

"It's a lot of practice and hard work. I've been very, very fortunate to have a lot of people help me out along the way."

She added: "My mam and dad have obviously been great, and it was great to have Lisa on my bag this week and my coach Shane O'Grady.

"I've been just trying to get my game to the point where it's ready to go on tour.

"My irons have been really good, and thankfully this week I holed a few more putts than usual which really made the difference."

Belfast Telegraph

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