Leona Maguire was thrilled to see her off-season work pay-off and get a congratulatory text from Solheim Cup skipper Catriona Matthew after she secured her first LPGA Tour top-10 on US soil in the Drive On Championship in Florida.
The Slieve Russell star, 26, tied for sixth behind Austin Ernst at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club to move to 14th in the Race to CME Globe Points list, second in the Rookie of the Year race and close to the top 100 in the Rolex Rankings when they are updated later today.
The Co Cavan star changed to graphite shafts in her irons during her short winter break and put a new driver into her bag and after following a tie for 16th in the Gainbridge LPGA with her first top-10 since last year’s Vic Open in Australia, she’s upbeat about contending for that elusive first LPGA Tour win in what is a crucial Olympic Games and Solheim Cup year.
“It’s nice to get off to a good start to the year,” Maguire said from her Lake Nona base in Orlando where pre-season practice rounds with the fellow Lake Nona members Annika Sorenstam, Anne Van Damme, Nasa Hatoaka and Lindy Duncan helped her chip away the winter rust.
“It’s always good to hit the ground running and nice to see the changes I made in the off season paying off so quickly. It doesn’t always happen so it’s nice they are making a difference already.”
The new KBS graphite shafts in her PING i210 irons have helped her hit the ball higher into firm greens and she’s also picked up nearly 20 yards off the tee thanks to the new PING G425 driver.
“The bit of extra length has definitely helped,” she said after averaging nearly 253 yards off the tee last week and playing the par fives in 12-under par.
“I was probably hitting it an extra 20 yards and when I played with Nelly Korda yesterday I was only about 10 yards behind her so that’s an added advantage. I played the par fives really well this week and was able to hit a few of them in two which made a big difference.
“The new irons with the new shafts are going higher and landing softer and with the new Bermuda greens last week incredibly firm in windy conditions there was a premium on hitting good irons and that’s something I did quite well.”
She has two weeks off before heading to the west coast swing but while she’s already in the field for the first Major of the year, the ANA Inspiration from April 1-4, she’s looking to push on and secure her place in the US Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco from June 3-7.
“The top-10 not already exempt in the Race to CME Globe on April 14 get in and I just missed out that way last year by one spot so if I can do that I will avoid a qualifier,” she said.
“There is also a world ranking cut off (top 75 on April 14 and May 17) but I will not look too deeply into that until closer to the date.”
Winning on tour is the goal but to get there she’s simply concentrating on putting herself in contention.
“The goal is to try and put myself in as many positions like that as I can,” she added.
“The difference from last year is that I finished strong over the weekends but didn’t get off to as good a start in events as I would have liked. Whereas this year I have started the first two days a lot better and that’s just gaining experience and getting used to the courses and how things work and having a bit more control over my irons has definitely helped.”
Making the European Solheim Cup team will depend on her results and she was happy to receive a text from the captain on Sunday.
“I got a text last night,” she said. “I played with Catriona in the summer in North Berwick and she has her hands full with everything that’s going on but it was nice to get her text. She said she’d be at the ANA so we will catch up there.
“The Solheim Cup is a bit out of my control, but the better I do, the better chance I have.
“I have to focus on doing that as well as I possibly can, and if I catch her eye, I catch her eye, and if not, we go again for two years’ time.
“There’s plenty of golf to be played between now and then, but we’ll see how it goes.”
As for the news that the under fire stockbroking firm Davy Group has paused its sponsorship programmes, including patronage of the National Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire and the National Concert Hall as well as deals with Maguire and fellow Team Ireland golfer Ronan Mullarney, the Ballyconnell native and her agent at Modest Golf! Management had no comment.