By SCOTT COTTOS
SYLVANIA — At age 9, Leona Maguire was quite good at both golf and swimming, but she felt one needed her full concentration if she was going to reach her desired level.
Swimming went down the drain.
“I suppose time was the big thing,” the 22-year-old Irishwoman said. “Golf takes up a lot of time. I had to decide if I wanted to be stuck in a pool for hours on end or on a golf course. I think I made the right choice.”
It would be hard to disagree with her.
The rising senior at Duke is the world’s top-ranked amateur woman golfer. She has twice won the Annika Award as the year’s top amateur, finished second individually in this past spring’s NCAA tournament, garnered numerous other awards and played in two U.S. Women’s Open.
Her first event on the regular LPGA Tour — she’s played in four majors, including a tie for 25th in last year’s Women’s British Open — will be this week as she tees off in the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club. She received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the northwest Ohio tournament, which will run Thursday through Sunday.
“The field’s very strong, with a lot of good players,” Maguire said as she stood alongside the Highland Meadows putting green on Monday before teeing off in the ProMedica/Hylant Pro-Am. “I’ll try my best and see what happens. I’ll try to make the cut and hopefully get to play on the weekend.”
Like most of the players in the Marathon Classic, Maguire came to Sylvania from this past weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey.
A year after missing the U.S. Women’s Open cut by just a stroke, Maguire didn’t come as close at Trump National with rounds of 75 and 78. But she accepted her two rounds as an opportunity to learn.
“It was a really cool experience,” she said. “It’s the biggest event all year, so it was a very cool thing to be a part of. It was a really good course. It was pretty tough. The rough was pretty long, the greens were pretty fast, so it definitely one of the better tests of golf that I’ve played on.
“I didn’t play my best, but I got to play with the No. 1 and 2 players, so it was very nice to be inside the ropes with them and play alongside them.”
Indeed, playing with top-ranked So Yeon Ryu and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn left an impression on her.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be, and I suppose it helped that on Thursday and Friday, the crowds weren’t quite as big,” Maguire said. “They were great to play with. They were really nice; that helped as well.
“You just have to try to play your own game and sort of watch what they’re doing and try to learn as much as you can as you go along.”
Actually, Maguire could have been among the regular LPGA Tour players this year after earning her card through the winter’s qualifying school. She, however, instead decided to return for her last two years at Duke, where she has earned the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honor in the past two years.
“The LPGA’s always going to be here,” she said. “I just want to finish my four years and be ready to go further in years to come.”
Along the way, she plans to earn her degree in psychology.
“That’s the thing: If I have my degree, once I’m done with golf I’ll have options, which always nice to have — to have something else I can do,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but it’s always there to use if I need it.”
MONDAY QUALIFIER: Alison Walshe of the United States and England’s Meghan MacLaren tied for first place at 4-under-par 67 to tie for first place in the qualifying round at Sylvania Country Club and make their way into the Marathon Classic field.
Former University of Findlay standout Kasey Petty and Caroline Powers, a former star at Bowling Green High School and Michigan State and now an MSU assistant coach, each shot 76 to tie for 17th in the 25-player field.