In late September 2006, as one of the most venerated events in professional golf drew to a close, a pair of eleven-year-olds were on hand to help present the trophy. Clad in the tricolors of the host country—their native Ireland— Leona and Lisa Maguire walked on stage to deliver the Ryder Cup to the winning European team.
By then, the identical twins also were accustomed to hoisting their own trophies on golf courses. The month before the 2006 Ryder Cup, Lisa had captured the prestigious World Under-12 Championship at Pinehurst, with sister Leona placing third. Already boasting single-digit handicaps, the Maguires received amateur invites to their first professional tournament the following year.
It would be the beginning of a dominant, record-setting stretch on the European junior and amateur circuits for the Maguires, with the twins regularly vying with each other atop the leaderboard—and leaving behind fields with competitors often twice their age. In 2009, Lisa and Leona propelled Ireland to victory in the European Girls Team Championship, the first in the nation’s history. At fifteen, they were the youngest players ever to represent Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup, widely considered the premier event in women’s amateur golf.
As they neared the completion of their secondary education, the Maguires were faced with the decision to join the pro ranks or to play collegiate golf together in the U.S. Drawn to Duke’s academics and the opportunity to groom their games under the tutelage of head coach Dan Brooks, they entered a program that has won six national championships, including last year’s title. It was a decision supported by Lisa and Leona’s parents, both schoolteachers. “You can play on tour for so many years,” Lisa says. “You can only go to college for four.”
Now rising sophomores, the Maguire twins admit that it’s been a big transition coming to America from Ireland and that they’ve had to adjust to the courses, weather, and pace of play in their first year of collegiate golf. One thing that hasn’t changed as much is the competition. Currently, 26 percent of NCAA Division I women’s golfers come from outside the U.S. (The Duke team is an all-international squad, with players from France, Canada, India, China, South Korea, and now, Ireland.) “A lot of the European girls that we’re playing against now that are juniors and seniors, we’ve already played against them back in Europe in juniors golf. So it’s not as big of a leap,” Leona says.
Support from back home also has eased the twins’ move across the Atlantic. The Maguires hail from County Cavan, two hours north of Dublin, in a small town that Lisa describes as a “country-like village where everyone knows everybody.” Slieve Russell, the Maguires’ local golf club, takes every opportunity to publicize the twins’ progress in the U.S. Leading Irish dailies recap their every collegiate tournament.
The attention is well deserved given the impact the Maguires have had at Duke. Leona was voted National Player of the Year, won the ACC Championship, and was voted both the ACC Women’s Golfer of the Year and Freshman of the Year. While Lisa has spent much of the past season making adjustments to her swing, she’s a key contributor to the team.
The Maguires consider themselves lucky to have a permanent practice partner and a close rival to measure their progress against. “No matter what we do, we’ll always be compared to one another,” Lisa says. “I think you can look at it two different ways. There definitely comes the extra pressure with [being a twin], but if you use it the right way, it can do more good than harm.”
By all accounts, they’re doing just that. Coach Brooks commends their “quiet, patient approach to the game,” example-setting work ethic, and compatible dynamic as siblings. “There’s definitely an element of competitiveness between them, but I hear about it more than I actually see it,” Brooks says. “They don’t argue. I’ve never seen them have a tiff. The two of them are very warm sisters.”
It’s a dynamic that their teammates at Duke have come to appreciate as well. Team captain and former National Player of the Year, rising senior Celine Boutier, competed both with and against the Maguire sisters in several amateur events in Europe. She remembers being impressed by their quiet confidence, uncanny poise, and exceptional golf games. Boutier, who has a twin sister herself, insists that Lisa and Leona have something different in their relationship. “It’s refreshing really. It’s almost odd when you see one not with the other.”
While they’re often split up for practice rounds, they room together at Duke and are both prospective psychology majors, which likely means a lot of classes together. That can be tricky for peers and professors meeting the twins for the first time, even though Lisa claims that they looked more alike when they were younger—when even their mother had to occasionally write their names on the backs of photos. “When people first meet us, they can’t tell the difference at all and think it’s impossible,” Leona says. “Once they get to know us and our personalities, they say they don’t know how they ever confused us.”
Down the road, Lisa and Leona have aspirations of playing on the LPGA Tour together. But for now, with the remaining three years they have in Durham, the twins are focused on continuing Duke’s unmatched legacy in women’s golf. “It’s always special when you walk into the golf center and on the right is the trophy room, and you see the national championship trophies just lined up,” Leona says. “There’s space in there for a few more.”