Golfer Leona Maguire looks to cap her Duke career with an NCAA title

Duke golfer Leona Maguire looks to cap her career with an NCAA title

Duke's Leona Maguire has twice turned down opportunities to turn professional during her four-year Duke golfing career. She has one more goal to reach with the Blue Devils before joining the LPGA
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Duke's Leona Maguire has twice turned down opportunities to turn professional during her four-year Duke golfing career. She has one more goal to reach with the Blue Devils before joining the LPGA

A 2016 Olympian who has already competed in two U.S. Women’s Open tournaments and has twice been named a national player of the year, Leona Maguire’s successful Duke golfing career is drawing to a close.

The one accomplishment the 23-year-old Irish golf phenom lacks is an NCAA championship.

She’ll shoot for that when the NCAA tournament begins on Friday at Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Maguire twice played at the LPGA Q School, where she could have earned her tour card and turned professional. Both times, in 2016 and again last October, she stopped short of that accomplishment and returned to Duke.

Now a senior, she plans to finally turn professional when the NCAA tournament is completed. She has one more goal to reach.

“I’d like to finish it off with a national title,” Maguire said. “That’s the one thing that’s kinda missing. It would be nice to go out on a high and kinda put that cherry on top. I really couldn’t have asked for much more out of my four years.”

It’s noteworthy that she stayed all four years. It’s a testament not only to Duke coach Dan Brooks’ program -- consistently one of the nation’s best -- but to the Maguire family.

Leona’s twin sister, Lisa, is also completing her four years playing at Duke. Together, they graduated last Sunday with their parents, having traveled from their home in Cavan, Ireland, in attendance.

Duke’s Leona Maguire drives from the green during the final round of the ACC Women’s Golf Championship at The Reserve Club at Pawleys Island. Keith Alan Jacobs For The Sun News

Declan Maguire, their father, played a major role in Leona staying all four years. He was with her at Q School last year in Florida as her caddy.

“I just felt that she was ready to turn pro, but the fact was she was going to leave something behind if she did,” Declan Maguire said.

Leona Maguire had placed ninth at the Q School Stage II tournament, which qualified her to play professionally on the Symetra Tour one level below the LPGA. She could have earned her LPGA card by continuing and playing well during Stage III.

After returning to Ireland, Declan Maguire remembers having an extended late-night phone conversation with his daughter about waiting one more year.

“I rang her and I said to her `Are you sure this is the time to go?’” Declan Maguire said. “I knew after that phone call to give her a couple of days.”

Sure enough, a couple of days later, Leona had decided to stay at Duke for her senior season.

“I think she’s made the right decision,” Declan Maguire said. “Everything this year has been a bonus. It’s really probably been the best decision she’s ever made.”

As a freshman in 2014-15, Leona Maguire ended her college season as the world’s No.1-ranked amateur golfer. The Women’s Congressional Golf Association named her the national player of the year, an award she won again as a junior in 2016-17.

She was the ACC and NCAA South Bend individual champion as a freshman and set a Duke single-season record for lowest stroke average (70.78). But the Blue Devils, having won the program’s sixth NCAA championship in 2014, failed to repeat.

She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur following her sophomore and junior seasons. In 2016, she competed for Ireland at the Rio Olympics and had planned to turn professional after Q School that fall.

But she decided to stay at Duke for her junior season, a decision she repeated last October.

“Duke is such a special place,” Leona Maguire said. “I’ve been surrounded by a lot of incredible people here, both on my team and other teams. Professors, students. I think four years out of my life, this has been four of the best years that i’ve spent. It’s something that’s going to benefit me hugely no matter what I do. I’ve always said coming to Duke was the best decision I’ve ever made and likewise staying here was as well. It’s prepared me very, very well for pro golf and for life in general.”

Duke enters the NCAA championships having won the Madison (Wisc.) Regional team title. Maguire tied for second, two shots off the lead.

Duke’s 2014 title was the sixth NCAA championship the program has won under Brooks.

Maguire won the ACC individual championship for the third time in her career last month and was also named ACC player of the year for a third time.

Now, in her final college tournament before turning professional, she wants to help Duke win its seventh NCAA championship.

“It’s my favorite group I’ve been a part of,” Leona said. “We all get along incredibly well both on and off the golf course. It’s like family. These are some of my best friends, these girls. I’ve got one sister on the team but I might as well have four. Everybody just wants to see everyone else do well. We are working well together as a team to try and bring home that national title.”

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