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In the driver’s seat: Leona Maguire on her momentous year and well-grounded upbringing

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By Katie Byrne
15th Jun 2022
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In the driver’s seat: Leona Maguire on her momentous year and well-grounded upbringing

As the first Irish winner in LPGA Tour history, golfer Leona Maguire is among a powerhouse of Irish sportswomen blazing a trail on the world stage. Here, she talks about her momentous year, her well-grounded upbringing and her partnership with BMW.

From Rachael Blackmore becoming the first-ever woman to win the Grand National to Kellie Harrington taking Olympic gold in Tokyo 2020, Irish women in sport have been achieving incredible things. Yet while the praise has come thick and fast for Irish female athletes making a name for themselves on the world stage, golfer Leona Maguire doesn’t exactly enjoy being at the centre of it.

Characteristically modest and more than a touch pragmatic, Leona, who recently became the first Irish winner in LPGA Tour history, prefers to keep her head down and focused on the next putt. Indeed, chatting to IMAGE by phone from The K Club in Co Kildare, where she’s test-driving the new BMW i4, the Cavan-born golfer and BMW partner seems more at ease praising her female counterparts than she is dwelling on her own success.

“It’s almost like we’re more happy for each other than for ourselves,” agrees Leona, who counts many of Ireland’s female sporting trailblazers as friends. “I was at Kellie’s [Harrington] gold-medal fight in Tokyo and I was more happy for her that day than I was for myself. And when you see champions like Rachael [Blackmore] and Katie [Taylor], and you know how humble and hardworking they are, you want to see them do well… You know what goes on behind the scenes, the effort and the dedication that they put into it.”

As for her tendency to avoid self-praise, Leona says it ultimately boils down to a fear of complacency. “You win something and there’s already another goal, there’s something that has to be achieved so you’re on to the next one, and the next one… Whereas, if someone else does it, you’re the first one to congratulate them and tell them how great they are. But you’d never look at yourself the same way…”

A lifelong sports lover, Leona’s golf career started at the age of nine when she gave up a promising swimming career to focus on the fairways. She and her twin sister Lisa began to practise in their local golf course in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, where they soon got to grips with bogeys and birdies.

Back then, Leona and her sister Lisa had just three clubs each, but as their game progressed, their dad, Declan Maguire, became their de facto coach. Reading golf books to educate himself, he taught his daughters as much as he could about swing technique and movement awareness. Leona says she and her sister played “anything with a ball and stick” before they narrowed their focus and concentrated on golf.

“I’m really glad my dad was really into all kinds of sports,” she says. “And golf is a very individual sport so I’m glad I had the experience of playing on team sports as well… It can only help.” By the age of 12, it became clear that the sisters had enormous potential. They started training under coach Shane O’Grady, and while Lisa has since retired from the game, Leona has worked with him ever since.

Leona and Lisa were tipped for greatness long before they became the youngest ever members of a British and Irish Curtis Cup team at the tender age of 15. Indeed, in the earlier parts of their careers, they were often described as golfing “prodigies”.

How did it feel to have such a label bestowed on them? “I think Mam and Dad did a pretty good job of shielding us from that,” says Leona. “I don’t think we were really aware of labels like that. We were just going out and playing golf and doing as well as we possibly could.

“And I think because I had Lisa as well, I was trying to beat her and she was trying to beat me so we weren’t really conscious of anybody else and we didn’t really know how good we were, compared to anyone else. It was just, ‘Am I better than Lisa?’ And she wanted to know if she was better than me. And that was it, really.”

Their upbringing also helped to keep them grounded. Their school-teacher parents believed in the value of effort over achievement and encouraged their children to “do their best”, rather than “be the best”. “The big thing with them all the way up, and it still is, is that you just do your best, whether it’s schoolwork or golf… The plan was never to be a world-champion golfer or swimmer, or whatever it was. So long as you were enjoying what you were doing and giving it your best, that was it.”

The sisters inspired one another, adds Leona, but they were equally inspired by sporting role models such as Katie Taylor and Venus and Serena Williams. “The tennis aspect didn’t really matter,” she says. “It was the fact that they were two sisters achieving things on a world stage. It didn’t really matter what the sport was… dedication, hard work and passion transcends any individual sport.”

Today, Leona is continuing to rise up through the professional ranks, with the support of a team who, she says, have been critical to her success. Her coach, nutritionist, physiotherapist and strength and conditioning coach work largely behind the scenes, while her caddy Dermot Byrne helps her stay calm and focused during tournaments.

Finding a caddy who is on the same wavelength is “massive”, she says. “It’s a very unique relationship and you don’t really have it in any other sport. Obviously, there are certain skills to being a good caddy, like reading the wind and doing the averages, but knowing what to say, and when to say it, can sometimes be the biggest thing.”

Also in her corner is mum, Breda Maguire, who stays up until the early hours to watch her daughter’s matches when she’s playing abroad, and younger brother Odhrán. “He used to trek around all the tournaments with us when we were younger,” she says. “He never gets a mention but he’s been a big part of the whole journey.”

Equally, she has the support of partner BMW, who celebrate and champion women at every level of sport. “For them to trust in you, and see potential in what you’re doing, is obviously a massive confidence-booster,” she says. “They are an iconic brand and they’ve been heavily involved in golf for a long time. It’s a brand I’ve admired and looked up to for a long time… and it’s pretty cool to be driving around in one of their cars as well!”

Inside the BMW i4

The new i4 is BMW’s first all-electric Gran Coupé that combines next-level performance with all the modern comforts you could desire. It delivers a truly outstanding driving experience and offers up to 589kms* in range.

Environmentally minded

Making responsible use of resources throughout the entire value chain underpin how the i4 was conceived. For example, only hydroelectric power is used in the vehicle’s production plant in Munich.

Convenient charging

At DC high-power charging stations (ESB and Ionity), a range of up to 165kms can be delivered within 10 minutes. Models in Ireland are supplied complete with a BMW Charging Card and a charging cable for use at public charging stations. The car can also be charged on an external three-pin socket and 100kms can be achieved in up to 7 hours.

Tactile touches

There are two trims and models in the range: the i4 eDrive40 and i4 M50 in Sport and M Sport trim. Inside, the i4 is one of the first models to feature BMW’s innovative curved display with BMW’s iDrive Operating System 8.

Sound and vision

A selection of electronic sounds for the BMW i4 have been created in collaboration with world-leading composer Hans Zimmer.

Pack more in

The BMW i4 is a five-seater car, with generous headroom and space for up to three in the rear, plus 470 litres of boot space (including golf clubs).

Prices start from €63,565.

*All values were calculated based on the new WLTP test cycle. WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure) values are taken as the basis for determining vehicle-related taxes or other duties based (at least inter alia) on CO2 emissions as well as eligibility for any applicable vehicle-specific subsidies. Further information on the WLTP and NEDC measurement procedures can also be found at www.bmw.ie

Photography by Morgan Treacy