Duke's Leona Maguire captured the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M for the second time in three years.
Voted on by college golfers, coaches and members of the golf media, Leona first captured the award following her freshman year in 2015 and now becomes the first two-time winner.
“This award is a huge honour for me,” she told the Golf Channel. “It’s something I’m very, very proud of to get the opportunity to win again.”
It was another stellar season for the 22-year old from Ballyconnell as she opted not to go to the final stage of the LPGA Q-School last year and decided to remain at Duke University for the last two years of her psychology studies and graduate next summer.
She racked up top-three finishes in her first three starts of the fall series then claimed three wins in spring with her worst finish a share of sixth.
In total, she had three wins, two seconds and three thirds in 2016-17, including her second win in the ACC Championship triumph and a tied for second at the NCAA Championship.
She ended the season ranked No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and No 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin women’s college rankings.
Her 70.29 scoring average was the lowest single-season scoring average in Division I women’s college golf since Lorena Ochoa posted a 70.13 average for the 2001-02 season.
She was named the 2017 Women’s Golf Coaches Association National Player of the Year shortly after the NCAAs and has clearly been the dominant player on the US college scene since she produced three wins in her freshman year with just one of her finishes outside the top 10.
In her sophomore (second) year she had one win and six top-10 finishes in nine starts and while that appeared to be a poor year by her standards, she also represented Ireland in that year's Olympic Games in Rio, finishing tied for 21st.
In 30 stroke-play events in college, Maguire has had seven wins and 26 top-10 finishes but she's hungry to improve and hit the ground running as a professional next May.
As she prepares to tee it up in next week's British Amateur Championship before competing for GB&I in the Vagliano Trophy, the Slieve Russell talent has been working hard on her short game and putting so she can contend in the Women's US Open, the LPGA Tour's Marathon Classic and the RICOH Women's British Open before heading back to North Carolina to prepare for her final college season.
With a host of management companies vying for her signature — "I'm talking to a few right now" — she saw at last year's Olympic Games that it's the not long driving that will make or break her in the pro ranks but a deadly wedge game and peerless putting.
"I have been working on my putting a lot because my iron play has always been good so I give myself a lot of chances and I want to make the most of them," Leona said. "The big focus has been on my putting for the last few months.
"Playing with Lydia Ko in Rio, I could see she didn't hit the ball that much further than me but from 100 yards and in she was beside the pin every time and then in the hole. That's the difference.
"A lot of my practice is on wedges and putting now, playing little games against my sister Lisa and my team-mates and spending more time on the course trying to get a bit better in that department."
Having won three times this year and racked up another five top three finishes, including her second runner-up spot in the NCAA Championship since 2015, she's clearly the dominant player in the women's game right now.
She achieved similar results in her freshman season in 2014-15 but having dominated again this year and averaged 70.29 for Duke — the lowest stroke average on the US college scene since Lorena Ochoa in 2002 — her focus now is on being ready to make a smooth transition to the LPGA Tour next year.
"I go back in August but I will play some pro events and be ready to go pro in May next year," she said. "I will have a pretty full schedule because I have quite a few invites lined up. So hopefully I can get my card that way."
Having come up short with Duke for both the NCAA individual and team titles for the past three years, her big goal next season is to win the national double before playing for pay.
"That's the plan," she said with a chuckle.
She should be ready too as she believes that four years crisscrossing the US to play strokeplay events against the best amateurs in the world is the best preparation possible for a successful professional career.
"The big thing is just going from one tournament to another from week to week," she said. "It's like a mini tour in itself, and the three-round strokeplay events are good preparation.
"We only play matchplay at nationals, so it's really good for getting you into the mindset that you have to compete, week-in, week-out.
"Having your university work as well teaches you to manage your time and practice as efficiently as possible."
Her goal is simply to get her LPGA Tour card without having to go to Q-School and "make that transition as quickly as possible, so I can get out there with the best of them."
She admits that there will be pressure, but she believes she'll be ready.
"Having played quite a few professional events now and travelled week to week in college, I know what to expect," she said.
"It's definitely a step up from the amateur game, playing three or four weeks on the trot as opposed to every few weeks in the amateur game.
"That will take a bit of getting used to and it will take a while to get used to new courses and the longer set-ups. But in general, I think if can make my game a little tidier that will help. There is nothing major glaring at me."
Reigning US Women's Open champion and former Duke star Brittany Lang is a source of inspiration, but Leona also has the ear of 2014 European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
"I got to play a practice round with Brittany before she won the US Open last year and she's always there to give advice," she said. "And Paul McGinley is great as well and there to answer any questions."
Pyle & Kenfig is her next stop on the road to stardom as she tees it up in Ladies British Open Amateur Championship next week.
Given her trajectory this year, it would be a surprise if she didn't challenge.
"From week to week the tournaments in America are so strong you have to play your best week to week to have any chance," she said of the US college scene.
"To be able to play well the entire year and have a lot of third [three] and second-place finishes [two] was nice. To get those three wins just topped it off and proved my first year wasn't a one-off. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next."