Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. – Perhaps it’s appropriate that twins are competing on the same Curtis Cup side at a venue best known for champion sisters.
Essex County Club, site of the 2010 Match, was the home club of the Curtis sisters – Margaret and Harriot – who combined for four U.S. Women’s Amateur titles and, more importantly, donated the perpetual trophy for the Curtis Cup.
So the fact that 15-year-olds Leona and Lisa Maguire of County Cavan, Ireland, are making history here as the first sisters to play on the same Curtis Cup team is a bit ironic.
Mothers and daughters have represented their country at different Curtis Cups – the USA’s Jane Bastanchury Booth and Kellee Booth, for example –but never have sisters competed in the Match, let alone in the same year.
The Maguire girls – Lisa is 15 minutes older than Leona – are also the youngest to represent Great Britain and Ireland, surpassing Carly Booth who was 16 at the 2008 Match. The USA’s Michelle Wie is the biennial event’s youngest competitor, having been 14 in 2004 at Formby.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far,” said Lisa Maguire. “It feels like we are at a pro event with all the tents. It’s probably the biggest amateur event you are going to play in. It’s been amazing to be a part of it at such a young age.”
Added Leona Maguire: “I think it’s great that both of us are on it. The Curtis Cup is something you dream about from the time you start amateur golf. And the fact that we are so young, I think we just have to enjoy the experience.”
Being the youngest team members is nothing new for the Maguire twins. They were 14 last summer when they led Ireland to its first-ever title at the European Girls’ Team Championships in Finland. They were 13 when they represented Europe on the Junior Ryder Cup team. And they were 11 when they began playing international events for Ireland.
“Sometimes you have an advantage over everyone else because they don’t want to get beat by an 11- or 12-year-old,” said Leona. “It’s better to be the underdog.”
That’s a role Great Britain and Ireland will take into the three-day competition that commences Friday with three foursomes (alternate-shot) and three four-ball matches. GB&I has not claimed the Curtis Cup since 1996 when the Match was contested at Killarney in Ireland. It is the second-longest victory drought since the competition began in 1932.
The 2008 GB&I Curtis Cup Team didn’t have a single player from Ireland, despite having an Irish captain (Mary McKenna). The 2010 squad features three players – the Maguire twins and Danielle McVeigh from Royal County Down, the team’s oldest member at 22.
“They’re very technically efficient,” said McVeigh. “It’s great to see that. Their practice is very good; a hard-working ethic. They keep pushing me hard. Hopefully I keep pushing them.”
Of course, telling them apart takes a little more effort.
“Lisa has a pink shaft on her driver,” said McKenna, who competed in a record nine Curtis Cups for GB&I and is once again the team’s captain. “They have their names on their hats and shoes.”
Lisa said the best way to recognize them is by watching them write. Lisa uses her left hand; Leona her right. But even at school, teachers separate them in the classroom, although to keep things confusing one twin will sometimes answer for the other.
“We’re always in the same classes together,” said Lisa.
And generally on the same golf teams as well.
The 2009 European Girls’ Team Championship was a fun experience since few pegged Ireland to win. Sweden was gunning for a third consecutive title, but led by the Maguire twins, Stephanie Meadow and Lisa McCarthy, Ireland pulled off the upset of Sweden in the final.
That competition features 36 holes of qualifying – 4-count-3 format – to determine the top eight teams for match play. Teams are seeded by qualifying score and then play two foursomes and three singles matches. Ireland knocked off Belgium and England to reach the final against the powerful Swedes.
“All the other countries wanted to see [Sweden] beaten,” said Lisa, “[because] we had never won it before.”
It was Leona Maguire who delivered the deciding point in singles to give Ireland the title.
That was just one of several memorable golf moments for the Maguires. At the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches at the K Club in Ireland, Leona and Lisa got the chance to bring the Cup on stage during the closing ceremony.
For the past four years, both girls have been invited to a special winter camp hosted by Darren Clarke, where they have received tips and advice from the European Tour star. They have also had a chance to meet three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, himself a three-time Walker Cup participant, and both follow Northern Ireland sensation Rory McIlroy.
The trophy room at their parents’ home must be getting awfully crowded.
Individually, Leona claimed the 2009 and 2010 French U21 Championship, the 2008 Irish Ladies Closed Championship and the 2009 Helen Holm Scottish stroke-play championship. A few days before flying to Massachusetts for the Curtis Cup, Leona was the runner-up at the Irish Women’s Closed Championship. Lisa captured the 2009 Irish Closed and 2009 Irish Open Stroke Play and the 2008 European Young Masters.
“There’s a bit of a rivalry between us, but I think that’s what brings the best out of us,” said Leona. “I think it helps us get better and better.”
This whole golf thing actually got started by accident, literally.
While messing around with friends on the playground, Lisa broke her elbow. At the time, both sisters were competitive swimmers, but the injury ended Lisa’s season. A specialist recommended taking up a racquet sport like tennis to help the elbow heal more quickly. The twins’ father, Declan, thought golf might be a better remedy since they lived right beside Slieve Russell Golf Course, which besides being a championship layout, has hosted events on the European Challenge Tour and also has a short par-3 course.
So at age 9, Lisa and Leona started playing golf. Swimming suddenly was an afterthought.
Within a few years, the Maguires were making national headlines.
“We’ve spent a lot of time practicing hard, especially in the winter,” said Leona. “Once you stand still, there is always somebody ready to take your place.”
But with two parents who serve as head masters at different primary schools (ages 4-12), education also is stressed. Both Maguires said they must get all their homework completed before any golf takes place. They also take books when they travel to tournaments.
Both said they plan to finish their high school education and graduate in 2013. After that, they don’t know if they will turn pro or possibly come to the U.S. to play college golf.
Fifteen-year-old USA Curtis Cup player Alexis Thompson, who is a few months younger than the Maguires, will turn pro after the Match and is planning to make her debut next week at the Shop-Rite Classic in Galloway, N.J.
Right now, the Maguires are enjoying the amateur game, which includes a heavy summer schedule of competitions. After the Curtis Cup, they will play the Ladies British Open Amateur, European Girls’ Team Championships in Denmark, the British Girls, and the Irish Women’s Open, and they will also attempt to qualify for the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Next year, they hope to return to the U.S. for amateur events.
The Curtis Cup is just their fourth event in America, which also includes the 2008 Junior Ryder Cup (Kentucky) and 2009 Junior Solheim Cup (Illinois). But at both of those competitions, they were not paired together in foursomes or four-ball.
As for being paired together at the Curtis Cup, they said that’s up to McKenna. Leona is playing with McVeigh in Friday morning foursomes, while Lisa is sitting out. McKenna remains unsure if she will pair the sisters in any of the three remaining sessions requiring partners.
“I’ll just play it by ear,” said McKenna. “I mean they’re twins, but they got themselves here as two individuals. Quite honestly, to me they’re just two individuals. They’re two parts of the team.”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.