Along with Stephanie Meadow, 21-year-old Leona Maguire is flying the flag for Ireland at the Rio 2016 women’s golf competition, where she will have a very special caddy to help her negotiate the Olympic Golf Course.
Assisting her will be none other than her identical twin sister Lisa, who is less than enamoured at the prospect of having to carry a full-size tour bag around 18 holes in 30-degree heat and clean balls, scrub clubs and give yardages for her sibling and lifelong rival. “I kind of have to suck it up for this week. On a regular week I wouldn’t do it, but for this week I’ll do as I am told,” said Lisa, herself an aspiring professional golfer.
“She’s warned me not to put too much stuff in it,” current world amateur No1 Leona said as she prepared to fly the flag for Ireland and do battle with the world’s best for Olympic gold. It is a position that Lisa, the elder Maguire by 15 minutes, would dearly love to be in. The pair have been collaborators and rivals on the course for as long as either can remember.
The Irish twins have come a long, long way since taking up the game in 2004. Both were swimmers before Lisa took a tumble in the school playground one day. With time on their hands as she recovered, their father Declan took them to a local course. Before long, it was out with the goggles and in with the clubs.
The twins, who have been trying to outdo each other ever since, were two-handicappers within three years and made their maiden professional appearances side by side at the 2007 Northern Ireland Ladies Open. Thanks to their prodigious talent, they have grown accustomed to being in the media spotlight, having had the honour of carrying the Ryder Cup trophy on to the presentation stage when the K Club welcomed the prestigious competition to Ireland a year earlier.
The Maguires have notched several firsts since then. The only sisters to be crowned Irish ladies and Irish girls amateur champions in the same year, in 2008, they became the two youngest golfers ever to represent Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup, in 2010.
In developing and honing their games, the siblings have engaged in a keen rivalry. For a while, Lisa, the 2011 European Ladies Amateur champion, seemed to have the edge, but in the last 18 months Leona has come to the fore. Having finished 25th at the 2016 British Open championship, she now plans to head to the Ladies European Tour Q-School in December.
“There’s been a rivalry there. It’s pretty competitive. We have always tried to beat each other,” said Leona, who is one of three amateur players competing in the women’s golf event in Rio. Asked who would win in a head-to-head, the Maguires were briefly lost for words, with Leona eventually offering a diplomatic reply: “It depends. Some days she wins, some days I win. Probably, recently, it’s been me more than her.”
Despite their competitive differences, the Irish twins are determined to work as a team at the Olympic Golf Course. “We do get on very well. She knows what to say at the right time and she knows when to be quiet. There’ll be no fights this week,” said Leona, who shot a three-over par 74 in her opening round of the Rio 2016 competition on 17 August.