World amateur No 1 Leona Maguire has decided not to seek her LPGA Tour dream at next week’s Qualifying School after all but to remain at Duke University to complete her psychology degree.
The Co Cavan talent — 22 next week — has had a remarkable 2016 season, finishing tied 21st in the Olympic Games, wining the leading amateur prize in the RICOH Women’s British Open and claiming Curtis Cup glory at Dun Laoghaire before helping Ireland to a first ever bronze medal in the World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico.
She cruised through the Stage II of the LPGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament earlier this month but while she was confident she was playing well enough to clinch her LPGA Tour card at the first attempt LPGA International at Daytona Beach and clinch one of 20 cards in a 158-strong field over 90 holes, she’s put her academic career first.
“Upon considerable deliberation, I have decided to withdraw from stage III of LPGA Q-School and not pursue LPGA membership for 2017,” she said in a statement.
“This is not a decision that I have taken lightly but one that I feel is best for me in the pursuit of my long-term aspirations. I am thankful for the continuous support of my parents, friends, teammates, coach Shane O’Grady, ILGU and everyone at Duke and for their guidance in helping me to reach my decision.
“Being a student-athlete at a distinguished institution such as Duke is a once in a lifetime opportunity and not something I am willing to forgo. Not only do I get to obtain a world-class degree but I can utilise some of finest golf and athletic facilities in the country here at Duke.
“I have greatly developed as both a player and person since starting at Duke and am confident that another year and a half of playing collegiate golf will further aid me in all aspects of my preparation in becoming a professional golfer.
“I pride myself in putting 100 percent commitment and effort into everything I do and it is important for me to honour my commitments to my team and Duke while still pushing myself to become the best golfer I can be.
‘Being part of the Duke Blue Devil family is both an honour and privilege and I am excited to have the opportunity to graduate with my teammates and classmates in 2018.
“I am fortunate to have had some incredible experiences this Summer competing at the Olympics and in the British and US Opens that reinforced my desire to play professional golf.
“My dream is and always has been to compete alongside the world’s best on the LPGA and this remains resolutely unchanged. It is my intention to turn professional after graduation in May 2018 and I look forward to enjoying many more unforgettable experiences representing Duke, Ireland and myself as an amateur golfer until then.”
Having finished 25th in the Ricoh Women’s British Open, Leona advanced to the quarterfinals of Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship before helping Great Britain & Ireland to a 11 ½ to 8 ½ victory over the United States in the Curtis Cup.
In her two and a half years at Duke, she has built up an impressive CV, claiming the 2014-15 National Player of the Year award.
She is also a two-time First Team WGCA All-American, the 2015 ACC Player of the Year, a two-time All-ACC player and the winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the leading women’s golfer in World Amateur Golf Ranking for the past two years.
In 23 tournaments as a Blue Devil she has an impressive stroke average of 71.25 to go along with four wins, 14 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and 21 top-20s placements.
Currently ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek Individual rankings, she helped Duke win the final event of the Fall season, the East Lake Cup.
“Leona has made an excellent life decision --the full, positive impact of which will grow and blossom over time, during and well beyond competitive golf,” said Duke head coach Dan Brooks.
Her first taste of Q-School was a successful one as she posted rounds of 72, 67, 74 and 72 for a three-under-par aggregate and a share of sixth place.
A straight As student, Leona is majoring in psychology and proving to be an elite one too.
She was a WGCA All-America Scholar as a sophomore and is a two-time All-ACC Academic Team selection.
The Duke women’s golf program will resume the 2016-17 campaign Feb. 12-14 at the Northrop Grumman Challenge in Palos Verdes, California with the Slieve Russell star and her twin sister Lisa very much part of the squad.
Leona’s parents — both teachers — are fully behind her decision, which will give her even more in common with fellow Olympian, Pádraig Harrington, who decided to complete his accountancy degree before turning professional.
“We left Leona to make up her own mind on what she felt was the best thing to do,” her mother Breda said yesterday. “She spoke us as her parents and with everyone at Duke and we are very pleased and very much behind her decision.”
While the lure of the professional game is strong, Leona knows that there is no rush and the prospect of attaining a first class degree as well as a first class collegiate golfing experience was too much to give up just yet.