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Frustration pays off for Lisa Maguire and Duke

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ATLANTA – Perhaps no one at the East Lake Cup needed a win worse than Lisa Maguire.  

The Duke junior – whose twin sister, Leona, is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world – has been floundering for the past three years. When she arrived on campus, in August 2014, she and Blue Devils coach Dan Brooks embarked on a massive swing overhaul. Despite Maguire’s decorated junior résumé that included 16 amateur titles and a top-50 world ranking, Brooks knew his incoming freshman’s inside-out, power-sapping swing was in dire need of a rebuild.

“I was watching a game that August and September that isn’t going to be on the LPGA tour,” Brooks recalled Wednesday. “It’s not going there. It’s going to struggle on the Symetra Tour, maybe, and it’s going to fizzle out and she’s going to do something else. That’s what I’m watching.

“I could have squeezed a lot of good golf out of that in college, but she would have been at a dead end in four years.”

What followed was agonizing for both player and coach. While Leona earned NCAA player of the year honors in 2014-15, Lisa didn’t shoot in the 60s her entire freshman season, finishing no better than 40th in her last eight events. The low point came at the 2015 NCAA Championship, where she shot four consecutive rounds in the 80s and finished 83rd out of 84 players, at 51 over par.

“It’s been tough for me to watch her go through it,” Leona said, “but it’s been tougher for her to go through it herself. I try to be as supportive as I can and help her any way I can.”

Brooks tried everything to get Maguire back on track, watching old videos of her swing and consulting with professional coaches. Nothing worked. What looked perfect on the range immediately dissolved once she got onto the course, leading to only three appearances during her sophomore season (including two starts counting only as an individual).

“Your heart breaks,” Brooks said, “because you know what she puts in to have it not travel to the course and not work out. You know what you’re feeling, it’s three times as much for her.”

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This season hasn’t been much better, with a tie for 32nd representing her best result this fall. Maguire wasn’t even supposed to be in Duke’s lineup for this week’s East Lake Cup, a three-day, four-team match-play event, but junior Gurbani Singh became ill last week.

And so Brooks walked 14 holes with Maguire during Monday’s stroke-play qualifier (when she shot a team-worst 79), then all 18 during her semifinal match (a 2-up loss to UCLA) and again Wednesday against Washington’s Eun Won Park.

“I’m going to be on you like a gnat,” Brooks said, circling his finger around her face. But his unwavering commitment was necessary.

“It’s been looking so good on the driving range for a long time,” he said, “but it just hasn’t been traveling. She’s a shot-maker. She plays shots, but those players don’t think about their swing. She’s had to shift her mind into playing golf swing in order to hit it 25 yards longer and straighter.

“It’s a good swing change, but it’s not her natural way to think on a golf course. When it comes down to tight matches, it’s really hard to keep yourself out of your normal way of thinking. That’s why I stayed with her – to make sure she played golf swing the whole round, so she could hit it much farther and straighter.”

Interestingly, that’s the opposite of what most elite players say – that they don’t want to play golf swing; that they want to forget about their mechanics and just play golf.

“It’s definitely not easy,” she said. “It’s a little more work on the golf course than for some people. I have to focus on what I need to do – swing golf rather than just shot golf. It’s very easy to switch off and focus on playing the shots, but I’m not at that point right now. A better process will lead to better shots.”

Wednesday’s match against Park was ugly at times – including the usual match-play concessions, she was 9 over par – but Maguire summoned the clutch shots when she needed to, rolling in a 8-foot par putt on 16 and then two-putting from 60 feet on 18 to hold on for the 1-up victory. Duke won the team match, 3-1-1, over the defending NCAA champions.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Maguire, 21. “I’ve worked very hard the last two years to try and master it. It’s obviously not quite there, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of progress.”

Said Brooks: “This is a big step in the right direction.”

When she rolled in the 3-footer to win, Maguire calmly tucked the ball into her pocket and shook hands with Park. Then the emotion poured out. Normally timid and reserved, she leaped into the arms of teammate Virginia Elena Carta. The smile on Brooks’ face was unmistakable.

“That’s the most I’ve ever involved myself with a player’s game in 32 years, this tournament,” he said.

It’s too early to tell, of course, but this encouraging result might help revive Maguire’s career after three years of frustration.

“I know if I can get through this swing change, I’ll be a better player than I was as a junior,” she said. “It’s just focusing on the future and what the possibilities could be when I do get it right.”