Leona Maguire, unforgettable undefeated star

Lost in the hoopla was the fact that Beanie batted a thousand. Given all the storylines that came out of the Solheim Cup, including a ridiculous number of matches that went all the way to the 18th hole, it escaped many that European captain Catriona Matthew seemed to be a savant when it came to picking players for the big moment. In 2019, she went so outside the box by picking Suzann Pettersen that most observers thought the Scot had blown her first major decision. When Pettersen made the historic winning putt in the final match at Gleneagles, Beanie was kind enough not to say, “I told you so.”  

Leona Maguire, memories

Fast forward to 2021. Her picks weren’t quite so controversial. Everyone expected Leona Maguire to be on the European side. She’d played great all year, including a final-round run that Amundi Evian Championship that left fans wondering if the identical twin from County Cavan, Ireland would make her first career win a major. But the then 26-year-old was a winless Solheim Cup rookie, which left room for doubt. Throw in the fact that she was the first player from Ireland ever to play in the Solheim Cup; the fact that the Europeans were trying to win on American soil for only the second time in history; and the fact that the normally partisan crowds would be even more lopsided in Ohio since no fans were able to travel from Europe because of COVID-19, and this looked like a lot of pressure for a player who had never been on this stage.

But by Sunday night, draped in the Irish flag and unable to contain her smile, Maguire was the Woman of the Match, an undefeated star and a revelation for the week whose fist-pumping, putt-making swagger lifted her teammates and made her captain look like an unmitigated genius. 

The only player from either side to play all five sessions, Maguire posted four wins and a halve, putting up more points for Europe than Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson earned for Team USA combined. 

Matthew threw out another curve with the pairings. Everyone expected Mel Reid, the emotional leader of the European side, to go out with fellow Englishwoman Georgia Hall or perhaps the laidback Matilda Castren, also a Solheim rookie. Instead, Captain Crystal Ball put Reid and Maguire together, despite the fact that the two barely knew each other before arriving in Toledo.  

“I do want to give up a little big up to my girl Leona because I didn’t see that pairing coming,” Reid said of her partner for three sessions. “I trust Catriona’s pairing, she was like, ‘I really want you to play with Leona,’ and I could not be prouder of her by the way she handled herself, the way she plays. Hopefully the whole world now sees how good she is.”

In one clutch moment after another, Maguire holed putt after putt. Her rapid-fire fist pumps became a ubiquitous part of the proceedings. Then, on Sunday, she went out against American Solheim Cup rookie Jennifer Kupcho in what everyone saw as the match of the day. With the largest crowd of any of the 12 singles matches, Maguire never trailed. She thumped Kupcho 5 and 4 to all but seal the cup for the Europeans. 

Later that evening, after Castren made it official with a 1-up win over Lizette Salas, the team surrounded Maguire. In a setting where every shot and every match counted, everyone knew who to crown as the hero.  

When Maguire got home, she didn’t expect a parade. That’s because Cavan – an Irish village in Ulster, just south of the North, with a population of about 10,000 people who skew to the poor side of the economic scale – hasn’t had many heroes since William Bedell translated the Old Testament into Gaelic there in the 1630s. But a parade is what Maguire got – two cars and a firetruck with a bagpiper leading the way. She sat in the back of a BMW convertible and waved like a homecoming queen. 

A woman named Heather Humphries – a Teachta Dála, which, for lack of a better description, is the local congresswoman – did what most politicians do, grabbing a microphone to make some glowing remarks. “She has done her county and, indeed, the entire country extremely proud,” Humphries said of Maguire. 

Of that, there was no doubt. 

Meanwhile, Matthew, the genius behind the pick and the pairings that won Europe two consecutive Solheim Cups, retired as captain. For the second time in two years, she was far too kind to say, “I told you so.” 

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