The Korda sisters and a raucous home crowd lie in wait for the Dubliner who is the first Irishwoman to play in the Solheim Cup

Leona Maguire ready for debut in Solheim Cup cauldron against US star pairing

Leona Maguire enjoyed a stellar amateur career

Credit: Getty Images

Is this a baptism of fire for Leona Maguire or is she being thrown into the deep end? Actually, neither analogy springs to mind for the Co Cavan debutant who insists “there will be absolutely no pressure at all” here this morning at the Inverness Club as she walks out for the Solheim Cup’s opening foursomes.

Awaiting Maguire and veteran partner Mel Reid will be the biggest grandstand ever to surround the first tee – it also takes in the 10th tee as well. And if that scenario does not sound intimidating enough for normal folk, then the pair that Maguire and her minder are up against happens to be Nelly Korda and Jessica Korda.

The two foursomes matches the sisters played in Gleneagles in 2019 they won by the belittling scorelines of 6&4 and 6&5. Believe it, this duo is Pat Hurst’s most potent strike weapon and as the visitors seek the fast start that could prove so vital in their bid to win back-back Solheims for just the second time in the 31-year of this biennial dust-up, Catriona Matthew can only dream of Maguire and Reed pulling off the shock.

Colin Montgomerie, that great Ryder Cup campaigner, used to talk of the importance of taking down Tiger Woods on the first morning. “We knew it would be like cutting the head off the snake,” the Scot said. “It was only one point on the board, but it was worth so much more. America’s momentum was lost – totally and irretrievably.”

The same could apply to the Kordas. Nelly is the world No 1, Jess is the world No 18 and as the first siblings ever to partner each other in the Solheim they obviously have a chemistry like no other in this contest. Hurst has made a great play of experts being called in to conduct behavioural profiles of here team to decided who will work best with whom, but they clearly were not required with the daughters of Petr Korda, the 1998 Australian Open tennis champion, and wife Regina, who also reached the top 30 in the tennis world.  

Nelly Korda is one of the women’s game’s most powerful players

Credit: USA Today

“Nobody else asked if they could play with each other except the Kordas,” Hurst said. “And we all know how well they play with each other and, of course, understand each other.”

In complete contrast, Maguire and Reid had barely talked to each other until the team congregated here on Tuesday. Yet they have bonded quickly and Maguire feels “this march up means we have a free shot”.

“Let’s face it, Nelly and Jess are their golden pairing and there will be a huge amount of pressure on them,” Maguire said. “Both Mel and me are fighters and we will give it everything. I spoke to Paul McGinley [the 2014 Ryder Cup captain] last week and he told me to embrace the silence. Everybody expects the Kordas to win and I honestly believe we have nothing to lose. That’s a dangerous position to be in.”

Reid is clearly a fan of Ireland’s first ever Solheim representative. “Leona is fearless – she’s honestly not like a rookie,” the Englishwoman said. “When I first started playing Solheim Cups there were girls amongst us that were just playing on the Ladies European Tour. Not discrediting that at all, but Leona is playing against the American girls week in and week out on the LPGA Tour and she’s just not scared.”

Maguire is 26 and, in truth, it has taken a long time for this much hyped prodigy to advance into this position under the most glaring spotlight of all in the women’s game. That is because Maguire – who won the Irish Women’s Amateur aged 13 – elected to complete her college course at Duke University in North Carolina.

Maguire will play alongside experienced campaigner Mel Reid

Credit: Getty Images

In an era when females are generally turning pro earlier than ever before, Maguire stayed true to her lifeplan achieving a degree in psychology before finally turning pro in 2018. By then she had racked up a record 135 weeks as the world’s top-ranked amateur. “We all knew she was coming,” Reid. “And it’s been great to watch the progression we all expected. Leona will be a huge asset for Europe for years to come.”

The irony with Maguire’s first Solheim test coming against the Kordas is that, for so long, she was, herself, part of a sister act. Indeed, Leona’s twin, Lisa, was regarded as the superior in the early days and turned pro at the same time. Yet Lisa could not develop the requisite length off the tee for Tour life – at 220 yards she often found herself 40 yards behind – and she has since gone into player management at Niall Horan’s agency, Modest, which oversees Leona.

“Lisa is here and that’s obviously special, although there’s already been a bit of confusion with people mixing us up,” Leona said. “We’ve both been dreaming of this moment since we were little girls. I’m not anxious, I’m excited. To be the best you have to beat the best.”

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