Leona Maguire took an almost definitive step towards earning her LPGA Tour card when she won the Symetra Classic by five strokes at River Run outside Charlotte and her second professional title in six weeks.
The Slieve Russell player (24) picked the brains of Charlotte resident Seamus Power recently and after going into the third and final round in a four-way tie for the lead, she closed with a bogey-free, five-under 67 to win in North Carolina — her home from home during a stellar four-year college career with Duke University — on 10-under par.
It's been a remarkable first 11 months for Maguire in the professional ranks and she will now break into the world's top 200 after an incredible start to 2019.
After missing the 54-hole cut in the ISPS Handa Vic Open on the LPGA Tour in Australia in February, she has since racked up two wins, two runner-up finishes (one of them a playoff defeat last week) and another three top-fives from just 11 starts worldwide.
Australia's Stephanie Na shot 72 and tied for second with American Brittany Benvenuto, who closed with a 66 but there was no doubt about the winner.
"It was nice that I could cruise in a little bit today," said Leona, who has two wins in her last three starts and five straight top-fives on the Symetra Tour and now leads the Volvik Race For The Card standings by $21,864 after winning $26,250 to take her earnings this season on the second tier LPGA tour to $73,790 in the race for ten cards.
"I got pushed down the stretch by Stephanie. But this one is special. Being back in North Carolina is special. I had four incredible years at Duke and feel really at home this week.
"I got off to a fast start this year. I expected to get off to a good start but maybe not this good. I have been playing some really good golf. My putting has been a lot better this year. That has been a big thing for me. I gave myself a lot of chances last year but didn't take them. So my putting has been really solid the last few weeks.
"I was saying to my caddie, John [Mulrooney] this week it has been more the bogeys I didn't make that the birdies I did, so to finish the last two weeks off with two five-under, bogey-free rounds is pretty pleasing."
She also qualified for the US Women's Open later this month by finishing second in Sectional Qualifying in Atlanta last week and can look forward to teeing it up on a sponsor's invitation in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota in June.
"It's been a hectic season so far," she added. "I have been doing a lot of globetrotting. I was in Morocco and Dubai prior to Atlanta. I have a busy stretch coming up but I am really excited to tee it up in my first two majors as a pro and I am really enjoying my golf out here on the Symetra Tour now.
"Irish golf is really on the up with the 20 x 20 campaign and any time I can win like this and get more coverage for the women's game back home is only a plus and hopefully we will get a few more Irish players out here pretty soon."
The top 10 on the Symetra Tour win promotion to the LPGA Tour at the end of the season and with earnings of $73,790 in the bank, she has won $13,000 more than the player who claimed the 10th LPGA Tour card last year, meaning her promotion to the big leagues is all but guaranteed.
Leona Maguire 2019 performances
LPGA 10 Feb ISPS Handa Vic Open Cut
LET 21 Feb Ladies Classic - Bonville T20
LET 1 Mar Actewagl Canberra Classic T14
SYMETRA 7 Mar Skyigolf Championship T25
SYMETRA 15 Mar Florida's Natural Charity Classic 5th
SYMETRA 29 Mar IOA Championship T4
SYMETRA 5 Apr Windsor Golf Classic 1st
LET 25 Apr Lalla Meryem Cup T46
LET 1 May Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic T5
SYMETRA 9 May IOA Invitational P2
SYMETRA 17 May Symetra Classic 1st