She didn’t expect a parade. But neither did anyone else. Cavan – an Irish village in Ulster, just south of the North, with a population of about 10,000 people who skew to the poor side of the economic scale – hasn’t had many heroes since William Bedell translated the Old Testament into Gaelic there in the 1630s. Like many hamlets throughout the countryside on the Northeast edge of the Republic, Cavan has a main street too narrow for the vehicles that use it, a town hall made of gray stone that looks like a pre-WWI prison, and a Catholic church in the distance, the steeple of which towers over every tree nearby. Other than an occasional dustup in the local pub, not much happens there. So, when County Cavan native Leona Maguire came home from Ohio as the conquering hero of the Solheim Cup, the town turned out in full.
A woman named Heather Humphries – a Teachta Dála, which, for lack of a better description, is the local congresswoman for Cavan – did what most politicians do, grabbing a microphone to make some glowing remarks. “She has done her county and, indeed, the entire country extremely proud,” Humphries said of Maguire, who became the first Irishwoman ever to compete in the Solheim Cup. After that, a local firetruck led a two-car parade through the town’s streets. A piper stood between the red truck and a canary-yellow BMW convertible with Leona perched in the back like a beauty queen on New Year’s Day.
She deserved the attention and a good bit more. Maguire captured 4½ points in five starts at the Solheim Cup at Inverness Club, the best record ever for a rookie in the biennial event. She capped off that performance with a 5-and-4 thumping of Jennifer Kupcho in singles, the biggest beatdown of the day and equal to the largest margin of victory of any match of the week. Moments later, Maguire wrapped herself in the Irish flag and hugged everyone in sight, beaming like a kid at Christmas.
“Amazing,” Maguire said to me just a few minutes after the closing ceremonies when I asked if she’d ever dreamed it would be like this. “It’s been incredible. To be on the team was a dream come true. But this is … it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s been an incredible week from start to finish. We played as a team. We won as a team. Yeah, this is all of that and more.”
At home in Ireland, she had a little more to add. “It’s been a tough two years for a lot of people,” she said, regarding COVID-19 and all the travel restrictions that kept European fans away from the Solheim Cup. “To give them something to cheer about and to smile about, it’s fantastic. I was the one hitting shots but it’s nice to have everybody share in this moment and enjoy the win.”
“I didn’t know what was happening at all. It was overwhelming the amount of messages of support and everything.” – Leona Maguire
Of the 130,000 fans swelling the galleries at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, only a handful wore the yellow and blue of Europe. They tried to make up for numbers with enthusiasm but even the teenaged girl sprinting down the rough lines screaming, “Let’s go, Europe, let’s go!” couldn’t match the lopsided American crowds. But the Euros relished in quieting the partisan fans. After Sophia Popov came within a whisker of holing her tee shot on the par-3 12th on Sunday, the crowd around the green and in the nearby pavilion stood stone silent, prompting Sophia’s mother Claudia to say, “So, that’s how it’s going to be.”
The reception back home was quite a bit different, though.
“I didn’t know what was happening at all,” Maguire said when she got back to Ireland. “It was overwhelming the amount of messages of support and everything. Dad and Mam had kind of been telling us what was happening at home, everybody stopping by the house and calling and texting and all the rest. They did a few TV bits and stuff like that as well. And they came to get me in the airport and mentioned that there might be something then later on that day. I went to bed for a couple of hours and it all sort of kicked off. It was a lot of fun, especially for everyone in the local community to give them a buzz, to give them something to smile about.
“It was fantastic to see so many people that came, and all the kids out in their jerseys with their flags and all the rest. Hopefully that will be the first of many celebrations we can bring back.”
The Maguire phenomenon is nothing of the sort for those who have followed her since she was the best junior golfer in Europe. She won every match in the Vagliano Trophy and in the PING Junior Solheim Cup in 2011. Then she starred in three Curtis Cup matches – 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and held the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a record 135 weeks while attending Duke. She’s also represented Ireland twice already in the Olympic Games. There were questions about her length and how she would manage at the next level, but she won twice on the Symetra Tour in 2019, playing alongside her identical twin sister, Lisa, who was also a Curtis Cupper and Blue Devil.
Like the blue irises of her homeland, Maguire bloomed late, coming into her own at age 26 – two years older than Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson who have already amassed Hall of Fame caliber careers. But the final round 61 Maguire put up at the Amundi Evian Championship showed a lot of skeptics that she had the game to compete on the LPGA Tour.
The Solheim Cup performance added an exclamation point.
In County Cavan, the natives joked around with her. And there was some good family ribbing. Maguire had to deny stories her brother, Odhran, told of her practicing her fist pumps in her bedroom prior to the matches.
Lisa doesn’t play professionally anymore. She’s started dental school but also works as a player representative for Modest! Golf, the agency founded by singing superstar Niall Horan that represents Leona. Lisa was also in Ohio with the European team. And if she hadn’t been dressed differently, you would have had trouble telling the sisters apart.
“It was great to be out there and great to be inside the ropes walking along with her and share the experience with her,” Lisa said. “Hopefully there are bigger and better things to come.”
But the best words came from Kathleen Maguire, the twins’ grandmother. “She was mighty,” Kathleen said in Cavan, before the Irish TV cameras. “For three days she was unsurpassable. She’s great, she’ll go far yet.
“She’s only starting. This is the beginning of her life. This is the beginning of big stuff.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?