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Ireland's Leona Maguire looks to win first major at KPMG Women's PGA Championship

When Leona Maguire became the first Irish woman to win an LPGA title at the LPGA Drive On Championship, Ireland President Michael Higgins sent her congratulations note on Twitter. Now she's looking to win her first major at KPMG Women's PGA Championship. AP Photo/Steve Nesius

It all happened so fast. Leona Maguire, 27, breathed a sigh of relief when her golf ball sank into the bottom of the cup on the 18th green in February at the Crown Colony Golf & Country Club in Fort Myers, Florida. Her first victory on the LPGA Tour at the LPGA Drive On Championship.

When she glanced up at the leaderboard on hole 16, she saw she had a 4- or 5-shot buffer. Up until that point, the Ireland-native knew she was in contention. But she thought, "Lexi [Thompson] or Patty [Tavatanakit] or someone coming behind was going to make a charge." After being on the attack all day, she played more conservatively. Hit the fairway. Hit the green. Two-putt. Conservative. Yes, the buffer was there. But why risk it? "Don't have to do anything special," Maguire's caddie, Dermot Byrne, told her on the final hole. "Let's get this in the house."

Moments later, Maguire hoisted up the trophy. After signing her card for a final round 67, the former Duke star made history. She became the first woman from Ireland to win in the Tour's history. She is the only woman from Ireland on the Tour, not including Stephanie Meadow, who is from Northern Ireland. "I knew I was playing well, but I didn't expect it to come that early in the season," Maguire says. "You're just trying to shoot the lowest score you possibly can. It's not until the event's over, and you get to take a second and pause and realize what you've done."

In 2021, Maguire became the first Irishwoman to compete in the Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio, and she put on a performance. Maguire, who debuted on the Tour in 2020, earned the record for most points scored by a rookie. She helped lead Team Europe to an upset win. And as she draped the Irish flag over her back and clutched the Solheim Cup trophy, she knew that this meant something to her country and legacy.

"Solheim was definitely a big one," Maguire says. "Back home in Ireland, people tuned into the event. People that wouldn't normally watch golf seemed to tune it: men, women, children, older people, and younger people. It was a big deal to have an Irish person on it for the first time."

She adds, "Solheim was probably the highlight of last year."

When Maguire tees off at the 2022 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, on Thursday, she'll know she's ready to be there. Everything she's done until this moment has prepared her for what Congressional has to offer.

"I think the KPMG event's always one that you circle on the calendar," Maguire, who KPMG has sponsored since she played in the 2019 Symetra Tour after graduating from Duke in 2018, says. "This year hasn't been quite as consistent, but I've got that win, and I've got a top-10 in the U.S. Women's Open."

Maguire remains aware of her historic impact on women's golf, her home country, and the tour. But even with her collection of firsts, she is still processing that she is a well-known golf talent.

"In 2021, ShopRite was my first tournament back after Solheim. Up until that, in the pro-am rounds, sometimes the people you're playing with will Google you or Wikipedia or whatever. Maybe they looked up my college career, stuff like that," Maguire says. "Whereas, when I got to the first day at ShopRite last year, the pro-am group says, 'Oh, we already know who you are. We weren't cheering for Europe, but well done in the Solheim.'"

In February 2022, a day after her LPGA Drive On Championship victory, she received a flood of social media notifications. The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, sent her a congratulatory tweet and stressed the importance of her "historic achievement" and amplified how she's another "Irish sportswoman leading the way internationally." Shortly after, Maguire received a personal letter from the President. It confirmed it all for Maguire.

"The president was a big one, but Irish people are just great about supporting Irish people in general," Maguire says. "I got messages from all the guys on the Irish side of the PGA Tour. It's fun when people tune in and care to see how you're doing."

With all eyes on her after big wins and firsts, Maguire started to feel the pressure. She's always felt pressure to be in contention and perform at her highest level. But this time, it was different. After winning at Drive On in February, she struggled on the golf course for a few months. She wasn't making the top-10. She wasn't making cuts. She was lucky to finish top-50 in some cases.

"In an ideal world, you'd like to finish in the top 10 every week and make every single cut," Maguire says. "On the weeks you miss the cut, you do a quick assessment. You can't really dwell too much on things in season."

After three missed cuts, Maguire returned to her team and assessed what needed to be changed. She acknowledged she should have taken more time off between back-to-back events. She wasn't surprised that she struggled on the greens during the California tournaments due to varying grass. She knew it all and couldn't quite pinpoint how to correct her play quickly.

When Maguire arrived at the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, in early June, she enacted change. She started resting off the course and working with her swing coach to build her confidence. As a result, for the first time in her career, she finished in the top-10 at the second major of the season, securing a tie for 8th.

In mid-June at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give in Belmont, Michigan, Maguire made a last-minute surge on the leaderboard and found herself in a sudden-death playoff against world No. 9 Jennifer Kupcho. After finding trouble off the tee on the second hole of the playoff, Maguire three-putted from a long distance and succumbed to Kupcho's birdie.

Despite the devastation over her missed opportunities on the green, Maguire remains confident in her game. She's ready to take on her next challenge: the third major of the season, the KPMG at Congressional.

"Major championships are major championships," Maguire says. "It's going to be physically and mentally draining out there. But I'm here to win."