Monday, May 25, 2015

Maguire twins a delightful combination

Duke's, Lisa, left, and Leona Maguire, right, during the Women's NCAA Championship at The Concessions golf club in Bradenton, Fla.
 Lisa, left, and Leona Maguire, right, during the Women's NCAA Championship at The Concessions golf club in Bradenton, Florida (Picture by Tracy Wilcox ) 
BRADENTON, Florida – Leona Maguire won the 2012 Irish Girls Stroke Play Championship, but it was her sister Lisa’s name that was engraved on the trophy.
“I was super happy about that,” said Lisa, who found out about it when the next year’s winner sent her a congratulatory text.
Mixups with these Irish twins are commonplace.
When they sat together with Golfweek for an interview at the NCAA Championship, the Duke freshmen wore matching uniforms, right down to their pink and white hats. Even the Celtic crosses that hung around their necks looked the same. Only their ankle socks were different.
So unless a reporter spent most of the interview staring awkwardly at their feet, a little left/right shorthand was required to help discern the voice recording. Lisa sat to my left, Leona on the right.
“That’s not going to really help,” Leona said of my cheat sheet.
Or maybe it was Lisa.
Either way, they’re a delightful pair. Leona, the top-ranked player in college golf and No. 1 amateur in the world, was born 15 minutes after Lisa. 
The 20-year-olds say they’re not a package deal, that the possibility existed that they might split up in college, though that’s difficult to imagine.
This week the pale-skinned twins have tackled Florida’s blistering heat and nagging mosquitoes (they get unusually large welts) in their national-championship debut. Duke, winner of six NCAA championships, is among the favorites heading into match play. The Blue Devils were second in the stroke-play standings, three strokes behind USC when the third round was halted because of darkness.
The Maguire sisters certainly have plenty of experience in head-to-head formats. At 15, they became the youngest Great Britain and Ireland players in Curtis Cup history. Only Leona repeated in 2012. They’ve represented Europe on Junior Solheim Cup and Junior Ryder Cup teams.
Leona won 20 amateur titles before coming to Duke, while Lisa boasts 16.
“At the start Lisa was definitely better,” Leona said. “She was stronger, so she always hit the ball farther than I did. She won a lot more at the start.
“I got better, and then she got better again. And now it’s back to me. I’m going to ride it out as long as I can.”
Rest assured that everything with these two is a competition.
They’re roommates at Duke. Leona is the messy one. They’ll share clothes – because really, what’s the point in buying two of the same outfit? – but one of them gets to break it in for about a month before it’s fair game.
Lisa, for the record, does not share dessert. Both miss their mother’s Sunday roast.
They finished the fall semester at Duke with the same GPA, though they shared only two classes. Growing up, they often tried to trick their high school teachers. 
They couldn’t get away with that in younger years, however, as both parents taught them in lower school.
Their high school class of 100 featured a remarkable four sets of twins, though the Maguires say they were by far the most similar-looking.
At Duke, one of Leona’s professors once asked Lisa why she wasn’t going to class.
“I was walking the opposite (direction) of the lecture hall,” Lisa said.
It’s become a sort of game for the sisters, who like to play along with Duke classmates who confuse the two.
“When you can get away with it and get through the conversation with no one knowing, it’s like a small victory,” Lisa said, laughing.
They grew up in Ballyconnell, a small, rural town with a population of about 1,000 in County Cavan, near the border with Northern Ireland. 
 Duke coach Dan Brooks researched and discovered that the average temperature of the twins’ hometown in July is around 60. In Arizona, Leona asked assistant coach Jeanne Cho to follow her around and spray her down with sunscreen every few holes.
Their father, Declan, ran track and cross country and played soccer at Maynooth University in Ireland. The twins were competitive swimmers growing up, but at age 10, Lisa fell and broke her elbow on a playground. The physician suggested she take up a racket-style sport to help regain full range of motion.
Because Declan was an avid golfer and they lived five minutes from a golf course, she gave the game a try. Leona tagged along.
“He’d been at us for a while,” said Leona of her dad’s golfing enthusiasm.
At age 14, all other sports took a backseat.
The Maguire girls took off one year of school - from September 2011 to June 2012 – to focus on golf before finishing their last two years of high school.
Today both sisters work with Shane O’Grady back home in Ireland. But Brooks has spent a good portion of the season changing Lisa’s swing to help improve distance and accuracy.
“Just trying to get everything a wee bit steeper coming down at the ball,” said Lisa, who had a 77.07 scoring average coming into NCAAs.
Leona, on the other hand, came into nationals with the lowest scoring average in Duke University history: 70.68.
Before the NCAAs at Concession Golf Club, six of her last 10 rounds were in the 60s. She’s a three-time winner this season, including the ACC Championship and NCAA South Bend Regional. She has gained 20 yards off the tee since starting college.
“Leona hits it pretty far off the tee,” Lisa said. “She got longer this winter. Good iron player. Pretty solid, I suppose.”
“Thanks,” said Leona, laughing at her sister’s modest description.
Leona is the favourite to win the ANNIKA Award, given to the country’s most outstanding collegiate player. The award is voted on by athletes, coaches and media, and will be announced May 25 following fourth-round NCAA play.
Brooks said it took him about a week to be able to tell the twins apart. He praised Lisa for her persistence and called her a hard-working, coachable player.
From Leona, who trails in the individual race at NCAAs by three, the veteran coach admires her intelligent play.
“Just the way she sizes up a hole,” Brooks said, “the way she thinks about it and doesn’t leave any stone unturned.”
If she did, Lisa would be right behind her to pick it up.