Lost in the hype was the fact that Beanie hit a thousand. Considering all the intrigue that came out of the Solheim Cup, including a ridiculous number of matches that went on until the 18the hole it eluded many as European captain Catriona Matthew seemed to be a scholar when it came to picking players for the big time. In 2019, she went so far off the beaten track in choosing Suzann Pettersen that most observers believed the Scotsman blew up his first major decision. When Pettersen hit the historic winning putt in the final game at Gleneagles, Beanie was kind enough not to say, “I told you.
Fast forward to 2021. His choices weren’t that controversial. Everyone expected Leona Maguire to be on the European side. She had played extremely well all year, including a final round of the Amundi Evian Championship that left fans wondering if the identical twin from County Cavan, Ireland would make her first career a major victory. But the then 26-year-old was a winless rookie from the Solheim Cup, leaving room for doubt. Add to this that she was the first Irish player to participate in the Solheim Cup; the fact that the Europeans were trying to win on American soil for only the second time in history; and the fact that normally partisan crowds would be even more imbalanced in Ohio since no fans were able to travel from Europe due to COVID-19, and that felt like a lot of pressure for a player who hadn’t never been on this stage.
But on Sunday night, draped in the Irish flag and unable to contain her smile, Maguire was the Woman of the Match, an undefeated star and revelation of the week whose punch and putt arrogance lifted her teammates and made her mark. captain looks like an absolute genius.
The only player on each side to have made all five sessions, Maguire recorded four and a half wins, racking up more points for Europe than Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson won for the US combined team.
Matthew threw another curve with the pairs. Everyone expected Mel Reid, the emotional frontman of the European squad, to date her compatriot England Georgia Hall or perhaps the laid back Matilda Castren, also a Solheim rookie. Instead, Captain Crystal Ball reunited Reid and Maguire, despite the fact that they barely knew each other before arriving in Toledo.
“I want to give up on my daughter Leona a bit because I didn’t see this pairing coming,” Reid said of her partner during three sessions. “I trust Catriona’s couple, she was like, ‘I really want you to play with Leona’, and I couldn’t be prouder of her by the way she behaved, the way she plays. Hope the whole world now sees how good she is.
In one clutch moment after another, Maguire punched out putt after putt. His rapid-fire hand pumps have become a ubiquitous part of the procedure. Then on Sunday she faced American Solheim Cup rookie Jennifer Kupcho in what everyone considered the game of the day. With the biggest crowd of all 12 singles matches, Maguire never lagged behind. She beat Kupcho 5 and 4 at all, but sealed the cut for the Europeans.
Later that night, after Castren made it official with a 1-to-1 win over Lizette Salas, the team surrounded Maguire. In a setting where each shot and each match counted, everyone knew who to crown as a hero.
When Maguire got home, she wasn’t expecting a parade. It’s because Cavan – an Irish village in Ulster just south of the north with a population of around 10,000 people who lean on the poor side of the economic ladder – hasn’t had many heroes since William Bedell translated the Old Testament in Gaelic there in the 1630s. But a parade is what Maguire got – two cars and a fire engine with a piper in the lead. She sat in the back of a BMW convertible and waved like a homecoming queen.
A woman named Heather Humphries – a Teachta Dála, who, for lack of a better description, is the local MP – did what most politicians do, grabbing a microphone to deliver glowing remarks. “She made her county and indeed the whole country extremely proud,” Humphries said of Maguire.
Of this there was no doubt.
Meanwhile, Matthew, the genius behind the pick and the pair that won Europe two back-to-back Solheim Cups, has retired as captain. For the second time in two years, she was far too kind to say, “I told you so.