By Jeff Babineau
BELMONT, Mich. – Patience is one of the most overused words in golf, but Ireland’s Leona Maguire showed the value of having plenty of it on a wild Sunday at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club.
Taking her time to start the day, Maguire stepped up to play her final six holes of the tournament in 6 under par, a tremendous run that would deliver her second LPGA title at a venue where she already had enjoyed nice success. After finishing second back-to-back at the Meijer the last two years, this time Maguire had the trophy in tow as she lifted off for New Jersey and the LPGA’s second major of the season this week at Baltusrol Golf Club.
“I mean, this one is, I think, that little bit sweeter after coming so close two years in a row,” said Maguire, 28, who continues to make a bigger imprint on the LPGA, fulfilling the promise she showed in spending 135 weeks as the world’s top-ranked amateur. She entered the week ranked 20th in the Rolex World Rankings.
“I know a lot of people this week were saying ‘You’re due one, this course owes you something,’ all the rest. But I suppose that’s not golf. Golf usually doesn’t work like that. But nice that it all worked out well for me this week.”
Maguire closed with an 8-under 64, matching the low round of the tournament, to finish on 21-under 267, two shots clear of Ariya Jutanugarn, who stood in 107th place after an opening 73 on Thursday. Jutanugarn was trying to figure out what she’d be doing over her free weekend, lowered all expectations, then shot 64-66-66. Funny game, this golf.
On a day when it was imperative to make birdies to challenge, Maguire seemed to coyly sit back for the longest time, like someone just whistling for hours at the bus stop. Defending champion Jennifer Kupcho got off to a blistering start that included an ace at the 124-yard fifth, and got to 5 under on her round early, and soon had the lead at 17 under. Korea’s Amy Yang, looking to win for the first time in the U.S., took a turn leading. Janet Lin of China, looking to win for the first time on the LPGA, took the lead on a test drive. As did the powerful, long-hitting Jutanugarn, who just a few days earlier thought she was headed down the road.
Through 12 holes, basically, Maguire sat back and watched, basically, waiting for something good to happen. She was 2 under through 12 holes. This tournament was Maguire’s destiny, after all, following runner-up finishes in each of the last two years. Blythefield owed her one, right?
Nothing would be gifted. Maguire, 28, seeking her second LPGA title, had to go out and seize it. She had been throwing jabs long enough, and soon she stepped into the fight.
She made birdie at the 181-yard 13th, where she hit hybrid onto the green and ran in a putt. Eagle from 8 feet at the par-5 14th (she hit 5-wood that chased up onto the front of the green) to let her presence be known. When she hit a pair of wedges in tight at Nos. 16 and 17, knocking in two short birdie putts, she had reached her morning goal of getting to 20 under. By 18, another par 5 where Maguire was just short in two shots, she was showing off, clipping a sharp pitch that finished a foot from the cup.
Things ended better than they had a year ago, when Maguire missed a short birdie putt on the same hole to extend her playoff with Kupcho. But she carried with her all week the good things she had done at Blythefield over the past two years. Like the 65 she shot on Sunday last year just to give herself the spot in the playoff. She was plenty confident.
“My goal today was to shoot 20-under par (for 72 holes),” Maguire said. “I thought if I got to 20 that would be a good target to set for the girls coming behind. I didn’t look at leaderboards. I didn’t know what anybody was doing, and I think, yeah, it was obviously a bonus to go one better, 21 (under).
“And obviously bogey-free on a Sunday is very nice, as well.”
Maguire was rock-solid throughout the day, hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation. Even early on, when the birdies weren’t falling, Maguire made sure to keep the faith that soon they would.
“She never missed a shot all day,” said Dermot Byrne, Maguire’s caddie of two years. “It just was about being patient, and waiting for the putts to drop, and eventually they did. I can’t remember a shot where she didn’t hit her target. She just played great, didn’t she?
“The eagle (at 14) was great for momentum. Patience was the key. That’s this course. People come out expecting to birdie every hole, and you don’t birdie every hole. She was brilliant.”
Jutanugarn rolled in about a 30-footer for birdie after blasting an 8-iron 30 yards over the flagstick at the par-5 18th, finishing alone in second. Her 66 included seven birdies, and she felt she found some momentum in her game over the last 54 holes.
“I mean, I can’t ask for better. I’m feeling much better with my game, but I still have so much things to work on,” Jutanugarn said.
Yang, whose four LPGA victories all have come in Asia, made birdie from the trees at the par-4 sixth and made an eagle at the 14th to keep close, but gave two shots back when she doubled the par-3 15th, which dropped her from 19 to 17 under. She birdied the 18th to tie Lin for third, three shots behind Maguire.
Kupcho, after playing her first nine in 5-under 31, made three bogeys on her final nine, shooting 38 coming in, to finish with a round of 69, which left her tied for sixth.
“Started out really well, and just didn’t follow it through,” Kupcho said.
In the end, it was Maguire’s day, even it she did wait a bit to make big things happen. It was in there all the time. She just needed to summon something special, and she did. Her patience, she said, was “massive.”
“I mean, it’s hugely satisfying,” Maguire said, the trophy sitting by her side. “I think it’s one thing knowing what to do; another thing executing on it. I feel like I’ve been playing some really good golf lately, and it’s nice that everything sort of just of clicked together on the back nine.”
Byrne, her Irish caddie, knew exactly what to do when Maguire finally found her stride down that homestretch.
“She’s world-class,” Byrne said, the rolled-up winning caddie’s flag from the 18th green clenched in his right hand. “I just need to get out of the way.”
As did, eventually, everyone else in the field at the Meijer. Some might say Leona Maguire was owed that much.