World No 1 Leona Maguire added her name to the history books in impressive fashion when she became just the eighth Irish woman to capture the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship at Pyle & Kenfig in South Wales.
The 22-year old Duke University star from Ballyconnell in Co Cavan, defeated Spain’s Ainhoa Olarra 3 and 2 in the 18-hole final on the South Wales coast to seal the biggest amateur win of her career.
Maguire will now take her place in US Women’s Open next month and the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns, near St Andrews, in August, when she will aim to win the Smyth Salver as the low amateur for a second time after doing so at Woburn last year.
Her win was the 11th Ladies' British Open win for Irish golf following victories for May Hezlet in 1899, 1902 and 1907; Rhona Adair in 1900 and 1903; Kitty" MacCann in 1951; Philomena Garvey in 1957; Maureen Madill in 1979; Lilian Behan in 1985 and Stephanie Meadow in 2012.
“It’s been a fantastic week and I’ve played some really great golf," Leona said. "It’s a real highlight of my career to have won the championship. It’s one of the biggest amateur events and one that I felt I hadn’t given as good a go as I could have done in the past few years.
"It’s great to get my name on the trophy alongside some of the biggest names.
“Ainhoa played really great golf and she pushed me all the way to the end. I knew I was going to have to play well. She threw all the birdies she could at me and I was glad I was able to rise to it.”
Winner of seven collegiate titles in three years at Duke, Leona birdied the firs to go one up but lost the second to a par
She then found herself behind for the first time in the championship’s entire match play stage, after 2013 Spanish Amateur champion Olarra birdied the third.
The South Carolina University scholar saw her lead pulled back immediately when Maguire fought back with a birdie to win the fourth hole and was powerless to stop the Great Britain and Ireland international regaining control of the contest on the fifth hole after she rolled in a birdie on the par-five to take a one-hole advantage.
Maguire, who recently won the Annika Award and the collegiate Player of the Year title for the second time in her career, strengthened her position even further after winning the seventh and ninth to go three up before Olarra reduced the deficit at the 10th.
Nevertheless, the three-hole gap was restored on the 11th when the two-time McCormack Medal winner — awarded to the world No 1 at the end of the year — notched up her fifth birdie of the round.
She then parred the 12th to go four up after her Spanish opponent could only manage a bogey.
Olarra’s refused to throw in the towel and the youngster from San Sabastian halted Maguire’s momentum by winning two of the next three holes, producing a vital birdie on the 15th.
The match was decided on the following hole, however.
Olarra had struggled with her putting throughout the match and a bogey on the 16th left Maguire with a par putt to win the championship which she duly rolled in for a 3 and 2 victory.
Olurra said: “I’m a bit frustrated as I don’t think I played my best. I didn’t play as well as I did this morning and I was struggling with my putting this afternoon. I made a few bogeys and it cost me.
“Leona is a great player and I have played against her in the United States. She has won many events over there and I am sure she will win many more.”
In the first of this morning’s semi-finals, Maguire defeated Finland’s Anna Backman 3 and 2 to secure her passage to the final.
Olarra closed out her match with Norway’s Stina Resen on the par-3 15th, rolling in a birdie putt to seal a 4 and 3 win.
Irish winners of the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship
2017 Leona Maguire at Pyle & Kenfig
2012 Stephanie Meadow at Carnoustie
1985 Lilian Behan at Ganton
1979 Maureen Madill at Nairn
1957 Philomena Garvey at Gleneagles
1951 Catherine "Kitty" MacCann at Broadstone
1907 May Hezlet at County Down Golf Club
1903 Rhona Adair at Royal Portrush Golf Club
1902 May Hezlet at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club
1900 Rhona Adair at Royal North Devon Golf Club
1899 May Hezlet at Royal County Down