Golfing Maguire twins peak early
January has just finished, the golfing year is still in its infancy, and already it's trophy time in the Maguire household. So what's new? Nothing in one sense, everything in another.
The 16-year-old Cavan schoolgirls have dominated Irish women's golf way beyond their age group for the last four years, but they have taken a giant leap forward after their performance in the Portuguese Ladies Amateur Championship.
Leona's triumph by a 15-shot margin and the capture of the Nations Cup element of the tournament by her and her twin sister Lisa was remarkable. The tournament attracted over 80 of the best amateur players in Europe and Leona left the field trailing in her wake.
She took an eight-shot lead into the final day and her 14-under-par total of 274 was stunningly far ahead of joint runners-up Karolin Lampert (Germany) and Karlijn Zaanen (Holland), who each had 289. Lisa finished 10th in the individual standings, which made her the top player from Ireland and Britain.
Even Shane O'Grady, the Black Bush GC professional who has overseen the technical development of the girls' golfing game since they were 10 years of age, was impressed.
“Over the winter they've grown a lot and got a bit stronger, so they've added distance. The girls now hit it the same length as — if not a bit longer than — the top women amateurs,” he said.
“Whereas before they were always giving up 20 yards and couldn't get near the par-fives, they're now getting close enough to make a course of Aroeira's length a par-68.
“They're just stepping it up a little bit and their goal going out was to break 10-under par, so Leona's 14-under exceeded that target. Lisa got a bit unlucky, particularly on the second day when they had a rain delay. Leona gave the most complete performance I've seen from her on a long golf course.
“The course measured over 6,000 yards, the same as the medal tees at a men's club. She had total control of her game and when she did hit a new milestone, at six-under, seven-under, eight-under, she didn't panic or fall back. It shows that what we are doing is working when she was put under the cosh.”
The Maguire girls were accompanied on the trip by fellow ILGU players Gillian O'Leary of Cork GC — who won the tournament in 2004 — Emma O'Driscoll (Ballybunion) and Charlene Reid (Royal Co Down).
In terms of Irish women's golf these international tournaments offer excellent early-season competition, which can only help the strength in depth of the game. But the Maguire twins are something special, as they keep proving, year after year, and O'Grady recalls his first impressions when the girls' father, Declan, brought them to him for assessment.
“They were 10-and-a-half, and they had an 18 handicap. I saw they were talented, but it was also obvious they have a huge competitive desire,” he said.
“It's hard to teach that. You have to have a big desire in any sport to do well at it and they still have it. They keep wanting to raise the bar.”
The twins are in transition year at Loreto, Cavan. They are growing up in every sense, and had to cope with the sudden death of their grandfather, Aidan McGovern, father of their mother Breda, on January 8.
At the time, they were playing in the Harder Hall Invitational in America and knew going into the last round that their grandfather had died and they would be going home for the funeral.
That's not easy for any teenager, but the twins dedicated their performance at Aroeira to their grand-father and did his memory proud.
They will now take a few weeks off before their next event, the Spanish Amateur Championship.
The twins won't be at the French under-age championships, as it's not on their schedule this year. Leona won the French Under-21 title in 2009 and 2010.
Careful scheduling is the key to looking after the Maguire girls' development, O'Grady has revealed. In fact, everything they have done in the last six years has been meticulously planned and carefully organised.
“We have a very structured roster laid out from now until September. The plan is to play a tournament a month and then two a month when the season gets going,” O'Grady said.
How good are the girls in terms of international quality? Well, Leona's showing in Portugal and a top 10 finish for Lisa illustrates their class.
Last year June, they were also the youngest players, at 15, to play in the Curtis Cup and in final-day singles, Lisa beat Kimberly Kim, who has turned pro and won her LPGA Tour card last December. Leona defeated Tiffany Lua, one of the top US amateurs.
The Royal and Ancient is producing a women's amateur world ranking list this month, which will indicate how well the duo are rated among the global elite. “Any questions that have been asked of Leona and Lisa, they have been able to answer,” said O’Grady.
“They've stood up to any opposition, so there's no fear of them not being able to compete at any level further down the road.
“But you can't rush anything. It's a matter of just ticking the boxes along the way. You don't jump any stages.”
The twins' schedule includes the qualifying stage for the ladies professional British Open and no doubt they will once again be invited to play in the AIB Ladies Irish Open at Killeen Castle next August. They will also play in all the ILGU 'Majors'.
Are they having fun? “Oh, yes,” said O'Grady.
“Who wouldn't be enjoying the excitement of Sunday and the homecoming? It's great news for Ireland — and we can do with that right now.”