The Cavan professional admits that it will be a dream come true to become the first Irish woman to line out for Team Europe when they take on Team USA at the Solheim Cup in Ohio starting on September 4th.
Leona Maguire was one of three Rookies selected to Captain Catriona Matthew's side as the conclusion of the AIG Women’s Open saw the qualification window close. Maguire has long harboured hopes of making the team and having played in two previous Junior Solheim renewals, as well as three Curtis Cup's, she now breaks down more barriers for women golfers in green, still trying to wrap her head around the significance of her selection given she's tried not to think about it too much all season.
"Yeah, really excited," Maguire said, off the back of her tied-13th result in Carnoustie.
"It's obviously been a goal for a really long time. I was fortunate enough to play with Lisa [sister] in two Junior Solheim's in 2009 and 2011. I remember walking around in Killeen Castle after watching Suzann Pettersen win the Solheim Cup and ever since then it's been a dream to be on the team.
"It was a big goal this year but I tried not to think about it too much but it is a big deal. No Irish woman has ever done it before. I'm the first - hopefully I won't be the last - but yeah, it's going to be a really special week."
Maguire's selection is a wholly justified one having broken into the top-50 on the Rolex Rankings despite still technically being a rookie. A tied-sixth best Major finish following a course-record equalling 61 at the Evian played its part but more so selection was guaranteed through her stunning consistency with ten top-16 finishes including five top-10's and two-runner up results on a blistering 2021 report card thus far. Still, even with such a record, for a long time Maguire felt like she needed to win to become part of Matthew's Solheim considerations.
"I didn't feel like I had too much time," Maguire admits. "At the start of the year I probably thought I needed to win to get Beany's [Matthew] attention but it's been a really consistent year. Those two second place finishes really helped a lot and some really strong Majors so yeah, all-in-all it's been an amazing year."
Maguire also revealed that despite teeing up at Carnoustie with the usual pressure a Major championship can bring, she didn't have the extra weight of Solheim selection hanging over her head.
"She [Matthew] told me on Monday but I was sworn to secrecy," Maguire laughed, adding it was a nice way to take a little bit of the pressure off.
"It was nice, I appreciated it," she said. "Not that I would've - I mean it's a Major so you're trying to finish as high as you possibly can anyway - but all year I've tried not to think about it too much and let the results look after themselves and the plan was executed nicely!"
Having dreamt about such lofty heights in European blue as a kid, now Maguire's reality turns to making this experience a winning one with Matthew's side headed to Ohio with hopes of defending the trophy they won at Gleneagles bolstered by Sweden's Anna Nordqvist laying claim to the year's last Major crown in Scotland.
"To have Anna win the last Major going into the Solheim is obviously a big boost," Maguire said.
"Sophia [Popov] is a Major winner as well. Georgia [Hall] and Charley [Hull] are playing well. There's a lot of good people with a lot of good form going into it. The Americans will be favourites on paper, and it's in America too which is always harder to win in but we'll give it our very best shot.
"I haven't played team golf in quite a while. It will be really nice to be part of a team again - I always enjoy match play too so yeah, I'm just really looking forward to it."
A mixture of new names and experienced players have been chosen to represent Team Europe at the 2021 Solheim with first-timers Matilda Castren from Finland and Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen also chosen by Matthew.
Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen topped the LET Solheim Cup Points standings, accumulating 126.38 points thanks to her winning run at the end of last year. Pedersen made her Solheim Cup debut in 2017 when she was one of Annika Sorenstam’s Captain’s picks in Des Moines.
The 2020 Race to Costa del Sol champion is joined by England’s Georgia Hall, who clinched the second spot following her runner-up performance at the AIG Women’s Open.
Team Europe had four players qualify via the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and there was a change in the rankings following Anna Nordqvist’s win at Carnoustie. The 2021 AIG Women’s Open champion climbed up to world number 16 to secure her place on the European team for the seventh consecutive time.
Last year’s AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov will make her Solheim Cup debut in Toledo after securing her spot. They will be joined by England’s Charley Hull and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who will both be making their fifth appearances in the competition.
“I’m really happy with my team right now for the 2021 Solheim Cup. Congratulations to Anna on her AIG Women’s Open win and securing a qualified spot in the team. There is plenty of experience there and it is great to have Sophia representing Europe for the first time,” commented captain Matthew.
“Over the past few months, so many European players have been playing well and throwing their name in the hat. Choosing picks is always the toughest part, but I believe we’ll have a great team.”
As for the traits the European skipper spotted in Maguire to warrant selection, Matthew believes the 26-year old has all the attributes to play a major roll in helping Europe retain the Cup.
"Yeah, Leona has had a fantastic year this year," she said. "She's right up there in the race to the CME and probably one of our top two players before this week. Obviously she was world No. 1 amateur for a couple of years, and it's maybe just taken her two or three years longer than perhaps others to settled I think as a pro.
"I think she's got that real grittiness. I think she's a really good match player. Has a great record from the Curtis Cup and played well in the match-play in Vegas. I think she'll be a solid, one of these never-give-up-type players."