She’s the slayer at the Solheim Cup and one of women’s golf’s biggest stars. We ask Leona Maguire if the sport is making the most of its potential
If you were in any doubt as to Leona Maguire’s talent, and the esteem in which she’s held, just check out this sentence from American captain Pat Hurst at the last Solheim Cup.
“She is the one we are going to have to fear for a long time”. The golf world certainly seems to be at her mercy at a time when the women’s game is changing rapidly.
Managed by her twin sister, Lisa, Maguire found herself headline news on this side of the pond when leading the recent Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol after 54-holes.
She faded in the final round, but a major title seems an inevitability and the 28-year-old is destined to be a force in the game for a long time to come.
With the landscape around women’s sport changing dramatically, we asked Maguire how golf looks to her eyes, how she saw the game growing up, and we can’t resist a quick Solheim Cup question with an eagerly awaited match against the USA in Spain tantalisingly on the horizon…
Is golf making the most of the surge of popularity we’re seeing across women’s professional sport?
I think exposure and visibility are huge. It’s one thing watching sport on TV but getting to go see it live is a completely different thing. I went to Irish Opens with my sister and my dad when I was younger and seeing the top players in the world be there.
They are memories that linger with young kids right the way through their golfing careers. Aramco have made a huge investment in ladies’ golf – they are some of the biggest events on the LET – so I know that the LET is in a strong place.
Would you like to see similar levels of publicity in terms of media and television coverage for these events. We saw wall-to-wall coverage of football and cricket in the summer. Is that the same for golf, or do we need more?
Visibility is everything. I’m not sure about England, but I know in Ireland there was huge coverage of the team being announced for the World Cup. There was a really cool video announcement put together and I’ve seen plenty of coverage on social media.
Obviously social media plays a big role in getting that visibility and exposure out there. I think golf has improved a lot. There was a time, a few years ago, where you had to sort of trawl and there was maybe a highlights package at 3am on a Tuesday night of the week before.
Now, it seems Sky are showing it, the dedicated golf channel, and there seems to be more of the LET or LPGA golf on. You can watch it live, or with a slight delay. Being able to find it – people being able to access it – is definitely huge as well.
The big thing, in terms of promoting the event, is knowing the event’s on. I know a lot of people come to us and say, ‘oh, I’d love to have gone to that event, but I didn’t know that was happening’ or ‘I didn’t find out till Saturday or Sunday’. So how the event is promoted as well is also huge.
Then it’s getting the buy-in of the local community around it, to support it, whether it’s golf, tennis, cricket, football – whatever it is.
There’s a lot of focus on pathways for getting more women and girls into golf now. What was the experience like for you growing up? You obviously played with your sister…
I’ve definitely seen a shift lately. I’ve always said I was incredibly lucky to have Lisa to always play, and practice, with and I think golf is such a social sport as well.
When you’re young, you want to play with your friends, you want to do things with a team. It always helps in a club if there are a few juniors that can do things together.
I know a lot of pros in Ireland are putting a big effort in and at this time of year there will be summer camps and taster sessions and stuff like that.
I’ve definitely seen a shift in more people trying to get involved in golf and younger people as well. I think there was always the mentality that golf was that older sport – something you do when you retire. There’s more of a shift in younger people getting involved now, which is great to see.
I even see it in Pro-Ams. There are a lot more women – three or four in a team – or at least one woman in every group. It’s just about getting confidence that they feel like they should be in the team or sign up for it. It’s shifting that mindset a little bit.
I think events like Aramco Team Series London, the majors, Solheim Cup, and all the exposure around those events help. If you go and watch those events, you get a little taste of it and then the next week it is, ‘can I go to the driving range? Can I go to the putting green?, to stimulate that interest as well.
Speaking of the Solheim Cup, you enjoyed a memorable rookie performance. Does that bring more pressure this time?
It’s going to be a very different team and it’s going to be a very different environment. It’s obviously a home Solheim Cup. We had minimal support on the ground, outside of the team, in Toledo [because of the Covid pandemic].
There will be a lot of European fans in Spain cheering us one. I think the team dynamics might be a little different. Obviously, you’ll still have veteran players like Anna [Nordqvist] and Carlota [Ciganda]. It will be a home Solheim Cup for her, so there will be quite a bit of pressure on her shoulders.
The great thing is there are a lot of Europeans in really good form right now. I have been playing well. Celine [Boutier] has been play well. Georgia [Hall] has been playing well.
I don’t think there is any standout player on the team per se. It’s nice to have a lot of people playing well and a lot of potential combinations so I don’t envy Suzanne’s [Pettersen, Europe Solheim Cup captain] job when it comes down to picking line-ups and final picks.
It’s still going to be a lot of new things for me in Spain. I’ve never played a Solheim Cup on home soil, so I don’t really know what to expect. Yes, I’m not a rookie, but I still will be in a lot of ways. I’ll just embrace the experience for what it is – the same as last time.
I’ll go in with very little expectations and, ultimately, I can’t control whatever the American team thinks, or says, or does. We’ll hopefully try and play as well as we can and give the European fans something to cheer about.
What do you think? Has Leona Maguire got a point, and how do you think she will fare in the Solheim Cup? Let us know with a tweet.
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