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Leona Maguire: How wellies are helping me get lockdown practice in ahead of LPGA Tour restart

 

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On hold: Leona Maguire at the ISPS Handa Vic Open at Beach Golf Club in Geelong, Australia earlier this year

On hold: Leona Maguire at the ISPS Handa Vic Open at Beach Golf Club in Geelong, Australia earlier this year

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Leona with caddy and sister Lisa in Rio in 2016

Leona with caddy and sister Lisa in Rio in 2016

�INPHO/James Crombie

On hold: Leona Maguire at the ISPS Handa Vic Open at Beach Golf Club in Geelong, Australia earlier this year

When Leona Maguire earned herself a debut season on the LPGA Tour back in October, chances are she didn't think this was how it would pan out.

After finishing fifth in the second tier Symetra Tour's order of merit last year, the 25-year-old was awarded her LPGA Tour card and was geared up for a big season in her still young career.

But, just four events into her debut season on the elite women's circuit, Maguire is back in her family home in Cavan waiting out the coronavirus pandemic that has cast the golfing season into chaos.

"I've been home for a few weeks now and was supposed to stay there for a few weeks, but I held off for a little bit," explains the former Amateur World No.1.

"Once our events started to get called off I just decided Cavan was the safest space for me right now. I didn't want to head back to the States and be stuck in a hotel unsure where you can travel. It's nice to be somewhere you're surrounded by family."

However, as much as she's happy at home, it's not where Maguire envisioned herself being right now. Indeed, had there been no Covid-19 threat, she would be in the States following back-to-back events in Arizona and California.

Even worse was the fact that the season had started so well for the three-time Curtis Cup representative, a fourth-placed finish at the Vic Open in Australia seeing her top the Rookie of the Year standings at the early stage of the campaign.

It all adds up to incredibly frustrating timing for Maguire, who admits the last few weeks have been a bit stressful having to amend travel plans and adjust to having no schedule to look forward to.

"When you're playing well, you want to keep playing, so for me it's about trying to hit pause on my season rather than stop so that I can hit the ground running on the other side," she says.

"We'd big plans for this year, we'd worked out I'd be travelling to 23 countries this year and obviously I'm not going to get to some of those now. But look, everybody's in the same boat, we all just want to be out there playing.

"We'd quite a nice run coming up on the west coast of America, I was due to go to Hawaii for the first time and I'd pretty much qualified for the ANA Inspiration, the first Major of the year, so there was a lot of excitement for that. That's all been put on hold.

"It's times like this it makes you realise how lucky you are to get to travel the world and play golf. We'll be raring to go once everything starts up again, but for now it's all about being patient.

"I won't forget my rookie year on the LPGA Tour, that's for sure!"

That's not even factoring in 'the big one' that Maguire was looking forward to this year, which would have been a second appearance at the Olympic Games representing Ireland, following on from her 21st-place finish in Rio back in 2016.

Back then she was still relatively inexperienced as a player on the world's biggest stage, coming up against some of the sport's leading lights such as Inbee Park, Lydia Ko and Shanshan Feng.

This time around she's vastly more experienced, has the experience of competing at the top level and has improved further as a player. It was a different Maguire that would have been heading to Japan.

"The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, and when you see something like that getting cancelled it makes you realise how serious it all is," says Maguire.

"I would have loved to have been in Tokyo, and there would have been a big month where I would have played the Evian (Championship), the Olympics, the Scottish (Open) and the British (Open), and that was where I was geared up to peaking but that will have to change now.

"Playing in Rio was one of the highlights of my career and I was really looking forward to representing Ireland again in Tokyo. Hopefully we'll do it all again next year."

Until her season can restart which, at the moment, is tentatively scheduled to be at the Pelican Championship in Florida in early May, there'll be plenty of time for Maguire to put in in the meantime, which will consist largely of gym work in her own home as well as running her own makeshift driving range.

"We live out in the country so I can hit some balls into a field and then throw on the wellies and go and pick them up!" she laughs. "It's not ideal but it's all about making the most of it while we can."

But the Cavan native is ever the optimist. Even if she can't play right now, she's hoping that perhaps the lockdown will convince people to pick up a putter once the restrictions have been lifted.

Alongside Jordanstown's Stephanie Meadow, Maguire is one of the leading advocates of the 20x20 campaign, which is driven towards seeing a 20% increase in media coverage, participation and attendance of women's sport, and she is encouraged by the number of people who were getting out on the course prior to the quarantine.

"I had a few messages from people asking if I had any spare clubs lying around, people who I never thought would ever play golf! So I suppose the only thing we can hope for at the end of this is that the number of people trying to get physical exercise, hopefully they keep trying to do that once the lockdown is over," adds Maguire.

"There's so many choices for young kids to play. There's obviously some sports which are more popular than others but it would be great to see more getting involved with golf.

"It's been fun for me seeing people getting creative in their back gardens, chipping into buckets or over clotheslines, different stuff like that. Seeing people finding ways to do things in a time like this is amazing."

Belfast Telegraph