Solheim sensation Leona Maguire fires record 62 at Pelican LPGA, looks to become tour’s first Irish winner

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BELLEAIR, Florida – Upon her return from the Solheim Cup, Leona Maguire, the undisputed Woman of the Match at Inverness, rode through her hometown in a gold BMW convertible with a “LEONA” license plate.

“It was basically like St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland,” said Maguire, who hails from the one-stoplight town of Cavan.

Folks that normally never watch golf, tuned in to see the local hero lead Europe to victory in front of an all-American crowd in Toledo, Ohio.

“I mean, it was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” she said of the homecoming.

On Thursday at the Pelican LPGA Championship, Maguire put together another special performance, recording a tournament and course record 8 under 62 at Pelican Golf Club. There wasn’t a bogey in the group of 2020 Pelican champ Sei Young Kim (64), Lexi Thompson (65), and Maguire.

Maguire’s swing coach, Shane O’Grady, who has guided her since she was 10 ½, watched her compete in person at the Pelican for the first time since the penultimate Symetra Tour event in 2019, when Maguire earned her card.

Were it not for a few putts that grazed the cup, O’Grady couldn’t help but think about the would-be 59.

“It was Hogan-like,” he said. “She didn’t hit a bad shot.”

Maguire hit 14 fairways and 14 greens and took only 24 putts, carding a 31 on both sides. She birdied all four par 3s en route to a two-shot lead. The former Duke standout and No.1-ranked amateur said she put a 6-hybrid in the bag this week and nearly aced the third hole. She also made an adjustment to her 9-wood, pouring in a birdie on the 15th, too.

“I suppose over the last two weeks I’ve worked on my irons a lot,” said Maguire. “I was kind of overdrawing it a little bit the last few weeks and in Korea … just getting that neutral ball flight back in.

“I play my best when I have little or no shape on my ball, so getting back to that. That’s been good here. Being able to hit it in those right sections of the greens, and even when I slightly missed the green it was still a pretty simple two-putt.”

No Irish player has ever won the LPGA. Maguire, ranked 46th in the world, came close this summer when she finished second to Nelly Korda. She also tied for second at the Lotte Championship in April, though Lydia Ko won that one by a mile.

For many in Ireland, even in her hometown, the Solheim Cup marked the first time non-golfers were able to appreciate the kind of talent and promise Maguire holds. A victory now would be even bigger in the wake of the rookie’s gripping Solheim performance.

“It was nice to see them excited about golf,” she said, “and hopefully there is a few young girls and boys in Ireland that have taken up golf because of that.”