It’s a record schedule packed with promise in 2021 but KPMG Ambassador Leona Maguire won’t be getting ahead of herself in her pursuit of glory.
It was a rookie season no one could’ve predicted; a global pandemic decimating Tour schedules the world over as the golf industry, like every industry, came to terms with COVID-19.
For KPMG Ambassador Leona Maguire, a year like no other coincided with one she’s been dreaming about for most of her life, a first season amongst the elite of women’s professional golf on the LPGA Tour. It started out better than the Cavan professional could have hoped, a tied-4th result at the ISPS Vic HANDA Open back in February as the former world amateur number one looked to hit the ground running. Then the golfing world was stopped in its tracks, Leona’s LPGA Tour membership frozen through 2021 over the uncertainty caused by coronavirus.
“It was a little bit disappointing to start the year so well thinking I might improve my status but that went out the window because it didn’t matter how well I played, I was starting this year back at the same point,” Leona reflected.
“In a way it was nice that we got a free run at it. There was so much uncertainty over travel and how many events we’d get to play that it was the logical move at the time.”
When the Tour did resume, the now 26-year old hardly missed a beat, collecting a top-20 finish at the ANA Inspiration before her consistency saw her become the first player from the Republic to qualify for the Tour Championship in December. She finished the year in 59th place on the money-list, having amassed some $180,000 from fourteen events played. So, how would she grade her rookie season fraught by so much upheaval?
“It’s a tricky one,” she admits. “There’s some big positives. The top-5 in Australia and the ANA were great weeks. I felt I performed quite well at the Majors. My putting was something I worked quite a lot on and my putting stats really improved.
“It was consistent. At the start of the year, making the Tour Championship at the end of the year and qualifying for the majors were my main goals. We qualified for all the majors apart from the US Open, we got close, just one spot off, but you know it’s been a consistent year making the Tour Championship so I’d just like to finish up a bit higher next year.”
Not only did Leona’s putting stats improve, she finished first in strokes gained putting on Tour averaging 28.69 putts per round.
“It’s something me and Shane [O’Grady – coach] have been working on for a long time, mainly because of me harping on that ‘if I only took these chances’ or ‘holed these putts’… I suppose I can’t go back to that anymore!
“I didn’t hit as many greens as I would’ve liked so that stat is a little bit lower than it probably should have been but it’s nice to know after working so hard …on something, that it’s paying off. I just need a few more for birdie rather than par next year and I’ll be laughing.”
One of Leona’s main goals before her LPGA Tour journey began last year was to add speed to her game. Leona’s pursuit of distance saw her average 242 yards off the tee last season, 120th on Tour, and although adding strength and speed remains high on the list ahead of the new campaign, she won’t be going down the road of Bryson DeChambeau in her bid for added gains.
“You have to play to your strengths,” she says. “I’m only five foot five so there’s a limit on it. I’m not an Anne Van Dam, six foot whatever with the long levers that she has. My strength has always been accuracy. Yes, I’ll try to hit it as far as I can, but within limits.
“In the off-season in the gym I’ll try to hit it a bit further, a bit faster but one of the main stats to look at on the LPGA is Greens in Reg and Putting. Inbee Park hits it about the same as me, if not shorter and she has eight majors and an Olympic gold medal and is there, thereabouts every week. There’s more than one way to do it.
“Your Anne Van Dam’s, Maria Fassi’s, Bianca Pangdanganan’s, they all got a lot of media coverage last year but none of them came close to winning, so I think that says a lot about the LPGA.”
Leona mentions Park and it’s no surprise given how much the proud Irishwoman would love to follow in the Korean’s footsteps to a podium at the Games. With the postponed Olympics scheduled for Tokyo this summer, Leona is on record as saying an Olympic Gold would trump a Major championship, not that she’d turn her nose up at any potential win this year.
“I wouldn’t say no to any tournament win,” she laughs. “But yeah, the Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world. It only comes around every four years. Everybody knows what an Olympic Gold medal is! They might not know the Evian or the ANA or something like that. It would be nice to have one of them. It’s going to be a busy stretch, June, July, August, a lot of Majors with the Olympics thrown in. A lot of prep will go into that run but it’s a really exciting stretch so hopefully everything goes to plan.”
Making plans can be tedious work given the ever-present nature of COVID-19. In an ordinary year, Leona would be prepping to return Down Under for the Australian Swing but has seen one of her favourite stops on the schedule cancelled this year. “It’s a pity, I’d like to be getting ready to go to Melbourne now for the Aussie Open and the Vic Open,” she says. “I’ve been there the last two years, it’s somewhere I’ve played well but I also enjoy, the way of life is great down there. This year we’re starting in Florida instead and working our way through the States before we get to Asia.”
It’s no surprise then that Leona, even with a condensed Major calendar, an Olympics and a potential Solheim Cup to look forward to in 2021, is taking a cautious approach to mapping out her goals this term.
“You have to take every event as it comes,” Leona stresses. “You can’t really get side-tracked by those big shiny events like the Olympics, the Majors, a potential Solheim Cup and things like that. They’re very much bi-products of playing well.
“There’s things that need to be done first before I can worry about them - getting my irons good, my wedge play tuned in, maybe pick up a few extra yards - but if I do all those things well, then Majors and working my way up leaderboards and things like that will look after themselves.”
Leona will make her seasonal reappearance at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, February 25-28.
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