Brian Keogh

Sisters first, then the world

Brian Keogh
Sisters first, then the world
Lisa (left) and Leona Maguire sign up with KPMG

Lisa (left) and Leona Maguire sign up with KPMG

When Tiger Woods turned professional at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, he set off a barrage of flashbulbs with his "hello, world," greeting to planet golf.

Twenty-two years later, twins from the little village of Ballyconnell in Co Cavan walked in the Presidential Ballroom at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Resort in Atlantic City to make a similar announcement.

But while there was no “hello world”, no flashbulbs or razzmatazz and just three reporters asking questions, a real human story was unfolding that spoke volumes about two 23-year-old girls with the power to inspire a generation of Irish girls to take up the game.

Given her college record  — two National Player of the Year awards and 10 career wins en route to breaking Lydia Ko’s record for the most weeks at the top of the World Amateur rankings with 135 — Leona could have hogged the spotlight and made her debut on her own.

That she chose to share her big moment with her sister said it all about their bond and their journey, which continues tomorrow when they make their professional debuts in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the course where Sam Snead won the first of his seven majors titles.

The twins have signed with Modest! Golf, the boutique agency headlined by One Direction's Niall Horan, and secured bluechip sponsorship deals with KPMG, Allianz and Puma while maintaining their lifelong relationship with PING.

But whatever about the financial security blanket of their commercial deals, their biggest asset remains their sisterly bond.

Leona (left) and Lisa Maguire

Leona (left) and Lisa Maguire

“Lisa's resilience over the last few years has been pretty inspiring to me,” Leona said yesterday as her sister, a little more nervous, sat next to her. “I think there is no one that's worked harder in my eyes to sort of get back to where she was.

“Just seeing her attitude as well, never really giving up. I think that's something that is going to hold her in great stead for the years to come.”

Hard work comes easily to the Maguires, who are hugely gifted academically graduating 'magna cum laude' from Duke University last month.

"The number on thing Pádraig [Harrington] said to us a few years ago at an awards ceremony was that the hard work it would take to complete our studies and get a degree would be the same hard work it takes to succeed on tour," Leona explained.

With a collegiate scoring average of 70.9 — the lowest in NCAA Division One women’s golf history— she has marked herself out as a special talent.

But it’s been a tougher road for Lisa, who many forget won Curtis Cup honours and 16 amateur titles including the European Ladies Amateur Championship and Spanish Ladies Amateur Championship in 2011 before embarking on a swing change in college.

She has no problem admitting that she’s on a different path — “Obviously our careers could take a little bit of a different journey along the way over the next couple years,” she conceded at Seaview yesterday.

But she has nothing but praise for her sister, not just for her achievements, but her encouragement.

The number on thing Pádraig said to us a few years ago at an awards ceremony was that the hard work it would take to complete our studies and get a degree would be the same hard work it takes to succeed on tour.
— Leona Maguire

"It is never easy when you are not getting the results you want," said Lisa, who is aiming for the Q-School at the end of the season while Leona wants to finish in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour, earning her LPGA card that way.

Leona Maguire

Leona Maguire

“But Leona has been great. To have the best player in the world alongside you for four years just a few feet away, I couldn't ask for anything better.

‘I am starting from scratch again; starting with a clean slate and trying to create as many opportunities to get my foot in the door and get the ball rolling.”

Signing with Horan’s Modest! Golf management company will give them extra media clout and some of his 40 million Twitter followers.

But their own relationship — still hugely competitive — is equalling compelling.

"We are very different on the golf course in terms of swing and different mannerisms," Lisa said with a grin. "Leona is the chef and I tend to lean more towards the washing up! But I think Mam will be happy we will be able to survive on our own when we get out into the real world."

Leona insists her dream is to be the best player in the world but Lisa is no different.

"That's been the dream since I started playing 10 years ago and I don't think that's changed,” she said.

In signing with KPMG, they join a stable that features such names as Phil Mickelson, Paul Dunne and Stacy Lewis while close advisor Paul McGinley is another Allianz ambassador.

They are hugely appreciative of the trust these global brands have placed in them. But Leona, for one, is not overawed, just excited to be reunited with former college rivals she knows she can beat.

"I have pretty much achieved everything I wanted in the amateur game and now is the best time and I am as prepared as I can be to make the transition,” she said.

"I will take it one event at a time and one shot at a time but the dream is to be the best player in the world.

"I got to No 1 in the amateur rankings so there is no reason why I can't have the same goal. It might take a little bit longer but that's the challenge.

It’ll be pretty cool if the girls, the six, seven, eight-year-old girls could look up to people like us in a couple years. I think that would be pretty nice to see.
— Lisa Maguire

"Seeing guys like Paul Dunne and Jon Rahm and guys like that making the jump, and pretty quickly, from the amateur game to the pro game shows that the gap between the amateur and the pro game has narrowed a little, especially on the women's side.

Lisa Maguire

Lisa Maguire

"You see players like Lexi Thompon and Charley Hull transition pretty smoothly, so hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps a little. It may take a little bit longer but you don't really know until you start.

"It's been incredible to see the success of our [Irish] guys out on the PGA TOUR, winning majors in recent years. Hopefully we can sort of be the first on the LPGA and get a little bit of a pipeline going."

Rory McIlroy sees their signing for Horan’s Modest! Golf as a milestone for Irish golf. But for Lisa, it’s a golden opportunity to give something back.

“Our dad always said when we with went to a tournament we had two chances to win instead of one, which is more than most people in the field had,” she said.

“Anything Leona and I can do to grow the game back home, especially on the women's side grow the numbers of girls getting into women's golf is something very important to us.

“We looked up to a lot of guys —  to Padraig, to Paul, Shane, when we were growing up.

"It'll be pretty cool if the girls, the six, seven, eight-year-old girls could look up to people like us in a couple years. I think that would be pretty nice to see."

What they said about the Maguire girls

Niall Horan - Modest! Golf

"I’m thrilled and very proud that Leona and Lisa have become the first Irish players to sign with the Modest! Golf management stable. They’ve both represented Ireland at junior and senior amateur level with distinction and we’re confident that they’ll take the professional LPGA circuit in their stride and raise the profile of Irish golf even further."

Rory McIlroy

"It has been great to see both Lisa and Leona representing Irish amateur golf so well over many years. I wish them the very best as they make their professional debuts this week at the Shoprite Classic and I look forward to watching their careers unfold."

KPMG Managing Partner in Ireland Shaun Murphy

"We are delighted to support both Leona and Lisa as they embark on their professional careers. We are committed to investing in young Irish talent in a range of areas and encouraging exceptional people to fulfil their potential. Leona and Lisa have already demonstrated impressive academic and sporting achievements and on behalf of everyone at KPMG I’d like to wish Leona and Lisa our very best wishes for their future careers."

Sean McGrath, Allianz Ireland CEO

"We are delighted to support Leona and Lisa as they begin their much anticipated professional golfing careers. Allianz exists to facilitate people to live their lives to the fullest, who knows what the future holds for Lisa and Leona but we are delighted to play a role in the next chapter of their promising careers."