Catriona Matthew: Leona Maguire can step up to Solheim Cup

Leona Maguire in action at last year's Women's British Open at Kingsbarns. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Leona Maguire in action at last year's Women's British Open at Kingsbarns. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Catriona Matthew, the European captain, reckons there is nothing to stop current women’s amateur world No 1 
Leona Maguire from appearing on her radar for the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.

Maguire, a 23-year-old from Co Cavan, has so far resisted the temptation to turn professional, deciding to complete her studies at Duke University before leaving the amateur ranks, a switch that is likely to take place this summer.

The reigning British Women’s Amateur champion already has a status for the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s development circuit, having secured that through the Qualifying School last year before dropping out of the final stage for the second year in a row.

That would leave her having to try to clinch a Solheim Cup spot in her first full season as a professional next year, but, after another honour-laden season in 2017, including five victories on the US collegiate circuit, the sky looks the limit for Maguire.

“I played with Leona last year in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns,” Matthew told The Scotsman. “She’s been world No 1 for a long time (she held the top spot for 52 weeks from May 2015 to 2016 and has now been No 1 for more than 70 weeks second time around) so is obviously a very good player.

“I’m not certain what her plans are for this year, though she has a Symetra Tour card. I think she graduates in May, so she might try to get her LPGA card through the Symetra Tour. If she does turn pro then, she is obviously going to be on the radar for the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles if she continues the sort of form that has enabled her to become world No 1.
And quite often they make the transition, these days, fairly quickly into the pro ranks.”

One Scot who already knows the strength Maguire adds to a team is Elaine Farquharson-Black, who led Great Britain & Ireland to victory in the Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire in 2015 and has been tasked with trying to repeat that feat on US soil at Quaker Ridge in June.

“Leona is naturally quiet but she carries huge respect,” said the Aberdeen lawyer. “The other players know that when she says let’s do this or you will find this, they really listen to her. She knows that as well.

“She is incredibly clever. She and her twin sister, Lisa, got the highest marks in Ireland when they were leaving school. She is very thoughtful, composed and focused. That’s great for others to see and learn from. She has made a commitment to Duke and it is important for her to see that out as well.”

Indicating that she is likely to be available again for this year’s match, Maguire was among six players who joined Farquharson-Black and team manager Helen Hewlett for a get-together at Quaker Ridge, which is located just to the north of New York City, in November.

“It was a chance for them to find out what they need to work on over the winter for this particular course, which is an A.W. Tillinghast-design, so it has greens that slope from back to front,” said Farquharson-Black.

“We did something similar before Dun Laoghaire. It was a chance to get familiarised with the course away from the excitement of the week itself. We struggle to get the girls together because of their various commitments and we are not allowed at the course until the Monday of the match itself.

“It is great when you have a mixed group like we had out there. Three were in the team that won last time so they are able to speak about their experiences. It was also a chance to have a Vagliano Trophy debrief as all six played in that.

“We looked at what we did well, what we didn’t do well and how can we do things differently. It was a good opportunity to debrief, which is something golf captains don’t get the chance to do very often.”

Since then, two Scots – Connie Jaffrey (Troon Ladies) and Shannon McWilliam (Aboyne) – have been included in a 14-strong squad, with that set to be whittled down to a final eight at the end of April.

“I’m hoping a number of home-based players can get in the mix,” said Farquharson-Black. “We always say that we want people to be in a position where they are saying ‘pick me, pick me, look at my scores’.

“But there aren’t that many events in the opening few months of the year. The South American Amateur Championship takes place this month and I see that both Shannon and Hannah McCook are heading out to that. Then there’s the Portuguese, Spanish and Helen Holm.

“It’s a question of going to Quaker Ridge with confidence and being well prepared. We need to be ready for it and hopefully we will be. We will have a week beforehand to fine-tune things, as we did before the last match.”