• Alistair Tait

A golden age for Irish golf?


Hands up if you can name an Irish major winner? That didn’t take long. Even non-golf fans could have come up with Rory McIlroy in the local pub quiz. Here’s one you’ll need to think about: how about the last Irish woman to win a major?


Take your time.


While you’re thinking, try the last Irish woman to win on the LPGA? How about victories on the Ladies European Tour?


Even phoning a friend won’t help you identify Irish women who won professional titles. Golf history isn't exactly littered with them. Maybe that’s about to change.


Olivia Mehaffey is in pole position to win this week’s Carlisle Arizona Women's Golf Classic on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s feeder circuit. She has a two-shot lead after 36 holes and could join Leona Maguire (pictured) and Stephanie Meadow as Irish women to win on that tour. Maguire won twice last year to help her graduate to the LPGA. Meadow also has a card for this season's LPGA circuit.


Trying to find other Irish women to succeed in professional golf is the proverbial needle in a haystack exercise.


Not just winners of individual professional titles. Not one Irish woman has played in the Solheim Cup since its inception in 1990. The Netherlands, Italy, and Norway have fielded players, and those countries don’t exactly have strong golf traditions.


You would have thought Ireland would have produced a few Solheim Cuppers over the years considering golf's popularity in the Emerald Isle. Wales usually takes a back seat to the other home unions in the British Isles, but even it has been represented in the biennial match.


How can an island that has produced major winners in Shane Lowry, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Fred Daly not have produced great women champions? Before invective starts getting hurled, it’s a genuine question rather than a rant against Irish golf authorities. I’m sure they have they've had similar thoughts.


About 10 years ago, I cast my eyes over the Women’s Open Championship field; there wasn’t one Irish flag beside any player’s name on the draw sheet. That year’s draw wasn’t unusual: I spent many Women’s Opens looking for just one Irish player.


Any glance at Curtis Cup records shows a plethora of Irish players. Irish representation is far greater than Welsh participation. Yet while Wales has produced good LET players like Becky Brewerton, who played in the 2007 Solheim Cup, and Becky Morgan, Irish players have struggled upon turning professional.


Irish eyes must be twinkling at the moment if not fully smiling at what lies in store for Mehaffey and Maguire. Irish golf fans will be hoping both can take their amateur form to the highest levels of professional golf.


Maguire dominated the amateur game. She won the Mark H. McCormack Medal for three consecutive years as the world’s leading player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. She spent a record 135 weeks as world number one. Listing her other amateur wins to go with the 2017 Women’s Amateur Championship and 10 trophies while attending Duke University would take up far too much space.


Mehaffey, who will turn pro this summer, doesn’t quite have the same amateur record, but it’s nae bad. The two-time Curtis Cup player set an Arizona State University record last week with a 10-under-par 62, the lowest round in ASU history, to help ASU win the Clover Cup. She’s currently the world’s 20th best amateur but has been as low as 10th. She’s also racked up wins in college golf. She had three in the 2018-19 college season alone.


Meadow is another young Irish player who could eventually make a name for herself and do her country proud. She also excelled in college golf while at Alabama. Injury and losing her father to pancreatic cancer have hindered her progress: dad Robert was a huge influence on her career. However, at 29 Meadow’s best years are hopefully still ahead of her.


Maybe 10-15 years from now we won’t be wondering about Irish women winning at the highest level. Maybe we'll be counting victories and Solheim Cup appearances.


#JustSaying: “I take it for what it is: a game. We’re just trying to get a little white ball into a little white hole. It gets treated far too seriously occasionally. With what’s going on in the world, it’s fun to be doing a job that I love and that I’ve done for 28 years and I’m still doing it” Lee Westwood

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