Some players are just built for match play. Suzann Pettersen is a name that comes to mind. Ian Poulter is another. Historically, Seve Ballesteros may be the king of the format and Dame Laura Davies the queen, both with incredible performances in their Ryder and Solheim Cup careers. Then there are players like Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, and Mel Reid who have certainly proved their affinity for it over the years. But there’s a new name to add to the list: Ireland’s Leona Maguire.
The 26-year-old has thrilled in her Solheim debut, playing all four matches exceptionally so far, three of those partnered with England’s Mel Reid. The duo has bolstered the morale of Team Europe with their successful play—which includes a 5-and-4 trouncing of Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing in foursomes on Sunday morning—but it’s been Maguire who’s been the star of the show thus far in Toledo.
“I couldn't have asked for a better start to my Solheim career,” said Maguire. “I’m very fortunate to have had two great partners the last two days as well, and Mel made me feel so comfortable out there and let me go do my thing. It just worked really well.”
Though she’s only a rookie, the Irishwoman has left nothing to be desired with her performance after the first two days and has quickly found her place among the European stalwarts, impressing even the most storied of veterans. Reid, always a leader for the blue and yellow, has been wowed so far with Leona’s play, and while the two hadn’t interacted much before Inverness, they’ve quickly ignited a friendship through their shared success.
“I don't think we spoke to each other at all before this week,” said four-time Solheim Cupper Reid after the morning session. “I said to her she might actually like me by the end of the week, and the more we keep winning maybe she will, a bit quicker than I expected. She's such an impressive player, and for me to take that role to take her out as a rookie and for her to play the way she did, I’m incredibly proud of her. She is impressive. To take down Nelly twice is a big ask and the way we did it, I'm just really proud we put some points on the board.”
Although it’s common for rookies to be partnered with veterans to help them through their first Cup experience, Captain Catriona Matthew couldn’t have foreseen the genius play that would come out of the pairing. Neither Maguire nor Reid expected to play with the other, but after going 2-0 as a team in foursomes, arguably the toughest format in the Solheim Cup, it appears that the call to put the two fiery personalities together was the right one.
“It was a pairing neither of us saw coming, but the captains obviously saw something in us that we didn't see in ourselves,” said Maguire. “I think we're both fearless on the golf course, which is something you need to be in those matches.”
The two played together again in the afternoon fourball match on Sunday, going up against the likes of Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas, both of whom were riding the momentum of hot putting into the second session of day two. Maguire again showed her chutzpah throughout the match, most notably making a clutch birdie putt on the 16th to keep things tied coming down the stretch.
An unlikely chip in from Kupcho on the 17th put the Euros 1 down heading to the last and while it was ultimately Reid that stuffed her second shot and converted the birdie for the tie, the veteran knew that her rookie partner was the reason they notched a half point in such a challenging back-and-forth match.
“I didn't have my best stuff today,” said Reid. “I think (Kupcho and Salas) were two great players and they played perfect fourball. If one was out, one was making a look at birdie. Leona again played great, putted fantastically, and kept us in the match. I just saw kind of a wave of yellow and blue, which was all our team, and I knew I had to pull something off. Leona has been holing the winning putts everywhere, so I thought I'd take a little bit of credit finally.”
With the tie, Maguire boasts a 3-0-1 showing ahead of the final day of competition and is slated to face Kupcho once again in singles at 12:25 p.m. ET on Monday. With just one day left and being the only player to tee it up in every session, she’s keeping the magnitude of the moment in perspective. She is looking to continue rising to the occasion at one of the most significant junctures of her young career.
“You never know how you're going to react in these situations until you're put in them,” Maguire said. “This is what you practice for. This is what you prepare for. I love team golf. I love match play. I've had fantastic partners that have made me feel so comfortable out there and just sort of tried to dovetail off them, ride the momentum, and hole a few putts when I could.”
No matter what happens, Maguire has to take some pride in what she’s been able to accomplish thus far in Toledo. Very few rookies show up in their first Solheim Cup the way she has and it’s her tenacity and strength of spirit that have won her quite a few new fans, even one in her foursomes and fourball partner.
“She's a fantastic player,” said Reid. “My role was to kind of make her feel comfortable as someone who's been on a few Solheim Cups, and I’m very, very impressed with her. That grit and determination are second to none, and it's been an honor playing with her the last few days.”