Interview with Leona Maguire
30th August, 2023
Davy ambassador Leona Maguire showed off her skills guiding another Davy ambassador, Hannah McLoughlin, through the green at the Grange Golfcourse. Speaking with Leona after the round, we discover what it is like to represent Ireland in the Olympics, how she prepares for big games, and how she overcame any obstacles she has encountered.
First of all, how was Hannah's golf game? Could she be a late wildcard for the Solheim Cup team?
Haha, you never know! The hockey swing shares some similarities with the golf swing so there is definitely some potential there!
Hannah will surely invite you onto the hockey pitch next. How do you think you'll fare?
I have never really played but I would love to give it a go! I would like to think that the speed needed to swing a golf club would translate across to a powerful hockey shot!
Being part of the Irish Olympic team must have been an incredible honour. Can you give us a glimpse into what it was like to wear the Irish colours and compete among the world's top athletes?
Some of the proudest moments of my golfing career so far have been representing Ireland at the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2021. My family are sports fans through and through so naturally I grew up waching the Games every four years on the television. When I was younger, swimming was my passion, and I often watched swimming greats: Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, and Rebecca Adlington. That was my dream back then, to compete in the Olympics as a swimmer. However, as the years passed, and my focus shifted from swimming to golf, that dream changed somewhat. The Olympics really are the pinnacle of every sportsperson's competing calendar so naturally I was so excited when I heard that golf would be re-introduced as an Olympic sport in 2016.
As Irish people, we are so invested in our sports stars and like so many I grew up watching the likes of Sonia O'Sullivan and Katie Taylor win Olympic medals. Representing your family, county, and country on the highest stage is the highest honour that any sportsperson dreams of fulfilling and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do so. Spending time in the Olympic village was incredible, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the likes of Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams. Rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest sports stars of all time was truly inspiring.
The honour of having the first birdie of the women's competition was also one of the highlights of such a great week and a memory that I will treasure forever. All the Irish Olympic hopefuls and I have been practicing and training hard since Tokyo with the goal of the next Games in sight. All going well I would love to be part of the team representing Ireland this summer in Paris, ready to make more memories that I'm sure will last a lifetime.
Across your career, is there one golf course that stands out above all as exceptional or unforgettable? If so, what made it unique and memorable?
We really are spoilt for choices when it comes to golf courses in Ireland, we really have some of the best in the world right here on our doorstep. When I'm home I really enjoy playing at the K Club. The course and facilities are amazing, and it challenges my game each and every time I play. I always spend time there when I'm back, it really helps me fine tune the accuracy of my approach shots while also testing my imagination around the greens. When it comes to Links golf, I really enjoy playing Portmarnock Links and Royal County Down. Links golf can be a truly special test of golf and is really dependant on the weather you get on a given day.
How does your preparation for the Solheim Cup, a team event, differ from your preparation for individual competitions? What adjustments or considerations do you make to ensure a successful performance in a team environment?
It really doesn't differ at all, but my training routines vary considerably depending on the time of year and if we are in season or not. During the off-season I spend more time in the gym, getting stronger and building up more swing speed in order to gain more yardage off the tee. I think that, as golfers, it is important that we are physically strong and stable, but we also have to be flexible and agile enough to be dynamic. I also spend some time with my golf coach, working on certain aspects of my technique, to make my swing more consistent and my ball flight more accurate for the upcoming season. During the season, my training in the gym focuses more on maintaining the strength I have built up over the course of the off-season. I will continue to work on generating more and more swing speed throughout the year - every extra yard off the tee helps!
I definitely place more emphasis on active recovery between events and after rounds too. I work with my physio to prevent any injuries and I also try and keep flexible and mobile by alternating some Pilates and some swimming sessions. When the season is in full flow, we typically play 3 - 5 tournaments in a row and then have one week off. During the off-week, I would typically work on aspects of my game that I felt needed a little fine tuning, and I usually spend the majority of my time practicing my short game and putting, playing games against the other pros to keep us sharp.
As you transitioned from your collegiate-playing career to the professional level, what were the main differences and contrasts you experienced? How did the demands, competition, and overall environment change between the two stages of your career?
Elite level amateur golf is as competitive now as it has ever been. I really believe that my time spent as part of the Irish team travelling internationally to elite competitions really eased the transition to the pro ranks. Playing collegiate golf in the US was also hugely beneficial in preparing me to make the leap from the amateur ranks to the professional stage. Playing at Duke for four years provided me with the opportunity to play some of the best courses in the US, allowed me to become acclimated to playing conditions in the US while also competing against some of the world's top amateurs on a regular basis.
My play in collegiate and international tournaments was rewarded with many invites to play in some LPGA, LET, and major pro events. Playing these events as an amateur provided me with exposure to the highest levels of tour golf and also provided me with the confidence in my abilities knowing that I could compete with the world's best. The biggest challenge I have found between playing amateur golf and pro golf has been with respect to the travel demands of the playing schedule. We play a demanding schedule of events around the world, often playing 6 - 8 weeks continuously. However, the gym training and planning that I do in the offseason really prepares me well to be as well as I can be to perform at my best in every tournament that I do play.
Aspiring golfers often face numerous obstacles on their journey to becoming athletes. What were some of the main challenges you encountered, and how did you overcome them to reach your current position as a professional golfer?
I think as golfers it is important to remember that there will be a mixture of good and bad in every round of golf and some weeks will be better than others. Golf is a game that you will never perfect, but I think that strive for perfection is what motivates us as professionals to practice and play every day with the goal of getting 1% better every day. I think you learn something from each round, and it is important to take the positives even if the round isn't the best.
Check out Leona and Hannah's day out on the golf course in the video below.
WARNING: The opinions expressed in this interview are the views of the interviewee and do not reflect the views and opinions of Davy.
17 August, 2023