ATLANTA — Cavan, Ireland, and Shreveport, La., are worlds apart, in many ways. But they share something: the men’s and women’s No. 1-ranked junior amateurs. And the common denominator? Both played in the Junior Ryder Cup.
Duke sophomore Leona Maguire and LSU freshman Sam Burns have experienced the pride — and the pressure — of representing your country in an international event.
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Being No. 1 in the world is just a logical next step in their respective careers.
Burns played on the 2014 United States Junior Ryder Cup squad, which defeated the Europeans at Blairgowrie Golf Club in Scotland. He went 2-0-1 in that event, pairing with Brad Dalke for a victory in foursomes and Andrea Lee in mixed fourballs. He then halved his singles match against Europe's Bradley Neil.
That experience — playing match play on an international stage — has paid off for Burns, who comes into this week's East Lake Cup on a roll. He's the third-leading scorer on a team which won the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship last spring, and has back-to-back top-20 finishes in his last two tournament starts.
“Anytime you can play together as a team — like this event — when you’re fighting for one another, it’s the same deal with the Junior Ryder Cup," Burns said. "Match play is good experience to begin with, especially in a huge competition.”
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Going to Scotland, and then winning the Junior Ryder Cup, is something Burns won't ever forget.
“It was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had, especially going to foreign soil with a chip on your shoulder," Burns said. "We wanted to prove we were better than those guys. That was the main goal, going into that.”
Maguire's Junior Ryder Cup experience was certainly different. She joined twin sister Lisa on the 2008 European team, in an event that featured Lexi Thompson, Matteo Manassero and someone who knows exactly what it takes to be No. 1 the world: Jordan Spieth.
"It was a pretty strong field that week," Maguire said. "I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed it. It was one of the highlights of my junior career."
Making the transition to college golf — particularly leaving her native Ireland for Durham, N.C. — hasn't seemed to be an issue for Maguire. The ACC Freshman of the Year picked up this fall where she left off last spring, winning the Tar Heel Invitational last month.
Maguire considers her Junior Ryder Cup experience a tremendous stepping stone to what she hopes is a long and illustrious career in the sport.
"Junior Ryder Cup was one of my first big events on the international stage," Maguire said. "Playing in front of cameras and things like that, it was huge. Playing as part of a team in match play, it’s always a great experience — and to play against the best junior golfers in the world at that time."
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