What the ‘L’ to write about this week?   I didn’t have to pause long in my deliberations.  There’s one ‘L’ this particular Irishwoman wishes to celebrate and that’s Leona, Leona, Leona!  Leona Maguire, one of only two Irish players on the LPGA tour, recorded her highest finish on that circuit, finishing runner-up in the Lotte Championship played at Kapolei in Oahu, Hawaii.  She pocketed just under a cool $126,000 for her 21-under par effort, a lovely boost for any bank balance but particularly for a player still technically in her rookie season.

Leona splitting the fairway in Hawaii [photo from LPGA.com]

Leona’s early introduction to the game and speedy rise through the amateur ranks to the No 1 position in the world has been well documented.  She attended Duke University in North Carolina along with her twin sister Lisa.  Both were very academic, as well as being talented golfers and while those four years cemented Leona’s desire to stay in the playing arena, Lisa, shortly after turning pro, decided it was not for her.  Now 26 years old, Leona has matured from a shy, home-loving Co Cavan girl into an articulate, confident athlete who is inspiring others with her exploits.

Just take a look at the company she is keeping.  Last week, alongside her in second place were three other players, Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and Nelly Korda, respectively the second, third and fourth ranked players in the world.  Out in front in Hawaii, and by some distance, was the former world No 1 Lydia Ko, who won for the first time in three years.  These women have ten majors between them as well as a gold and a silver Olympic medal.  Leona is not out of place and I think she has the confidence to know she has the game to take her where she wants to go.

Lydia – back in the winners’ circle. Hopefully, Leona will follow her lead [photo LPGA.com]

We all have heroes who have inspired and motivated us.  For inspirational, mind-blowing achievements Leona need not raise her eyes from her own Emerald Isle.  Katie Taylor took the boxing world by storm, winning gold at the London Olympics and becoming world champion at two different weights.  This sport takes a special type of courage as you can be seriously, physically hurt any time you take to the ring.  Ditto for Rachel Blackmore who a week or so ago became the first female jockey to win the Grand National – and this only a couple of weeks after being leading jockey at Cheltenham.  Phew!  What ever made me think golf was hard?  There’s definitely another dimension to those two sports.  And I tremble at a three-footer – what a wimp!

Inspirational Irish trailblazer, Rachel Blackmore, the first female to win the Grand National [photo from thejockeyclub.co.uk]

Ireland has a great deal of good golf to look forward to over the coming months.  Excitement is already mounting at the opportunity to see, not just home-grown players but some of the best internationals from both the men’s and the women’s games compete in the ISPS HANDA World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf Management  (phew, a bit of a mouthful!) at the end of July.  The event is tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, the LPGA and the LET and will be held over the Galgorm Castle and Massereene courses.  We have seen men’s and women’s events run alongside each other before but this is a first for the northern hemisphere.  The 144 men and 144 women will split a total purse of $2.35 million, competing for two equal prize funds.

Fingers crossed that Covid restrictions will have eased enough to allow the golf fans to pour in through the gates.  This tournament really matters, with world ranking points, Ryder Cup points and Solheim Cup points on the line and we already know the magic that can be created on a golf course by the presence of a vast, knowledgeable (and partisan) Irish golf crowd.

Less than 100 days to go now [photo from Niall Horan’s Twitter feed.]

Golf in Ireland is in a good place when we have the likes of Niall Horan, the founder of Modest! Golf Management, at the helm.  He is passionate about “providing opportunities for all and ensuring golf is a game for everyone”.  Superstars from other industries who fall in love with our game increase the reach of our sport massively and we are so lucky to have him driving the equality ship and keeping Ireland in the global golf conversation.

A parting shot, however.  Don’t think that it’s necessary to have a Rachel, Katie, Leona or Niall to light a fire in someone’s life.  Of course they’re invaluable but we can all do our part, however humble, to inspire others.  Let’s just start with a welcoming attitude, a few kind words and inclusion for all.  That way we can help lots of others enjoy this great game.