|UNF's MJ Maguire and the Ospreys lead the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. (Photo credit Todd Drexler)|
North Florida sophomore MJ Maguire admits that last year at this time, he probably was still a little reckless in his game.
He gripped it, ripped it, and then fired at every pin like it was his to take prisoner.
As a freshman in 2012, Maguire was named to the All-Freshman team and recorded a pair of top-10 finishes for the Ospreys, one in the A-Sun Championship. He was a member of a team that captured the A-Sun title, finished third at the NCAA Southeastern Regional and competed in the NCAA Championship, finishing in a tie for 12th.
At the regional and in championship play Maguire showed glimpses of what was to come for Head Coach Scott Schroeder. He fired a first-round 66 in the Athens, Ga., regional and carded a 71 in the first round of the NCAA Championship as a true freshman.
“MJ has always been a talented player,” said three-time A-Sun Coach of the Year Schroeder. “I think he has gotten more confortable with his game this year. He is taking what the course gives him and is not making the mistakes that are costly.”
Even as he chased after low scores in his first year, Maguire understood that he had the luxury of playing with and learning from a pair of teammates that were as good a tandem as on any other team in the country in Kevin Phelan and Sean Dale.
Phelan, a 10-time recipient of A-Sun honors, represented Ireland twice at World Amateur Team Championship (2010/2012), was a US Amateur Participant and US Public Links semifinalist in 2010, earned runner-up medalist status at the 2010 NCAA South Regional and was a US Open Qualifier in 2010 at Pebble Beach. He also was a PING All-Region selection in 2012 and was recently named to the European Palmer Cup Team.
Dale’s resume is equally impressive. Nine times he has been honored by the A-Sun, including as a three-time A-Sun Player of the Year. In 2010 and 2011 he participated in the US Amateur, was the Florida State Amateur Champion in 2010, is a two-time honoree by PING and in his first collegiate season at Ole Miss was named to the SEC All-Freshmen Team. In 2013 Dale medaled at the Jones Cup, was a Ben Hogan Semifinalist and joins Phelan with the honor of being a member of the Palmer Cup for the US.
“Kevin and Sean have definitely helped me, particularly in being competitive,” said Maguire. “I have two of the best golfers in the nation to compete with on a daily basis. Having them here definitely pushes me to play my best golf all of the time.”
Schroeder agrees. “I think Kevin and Sean have pulled him up to their level. He has definitely had the luxury of learning from experienced seniors.”
One of the facets of Maguire’s game that he feels has improved the most is his course management. Now although he is still tempted to “rip it” on occasion or to throw darts at pin placements designed exclusively for risk/reward, he shows restraint and opts for the more sensible play.
“My course management has been solid this year,” said Maguire. “I have learned that you can’t fire at every pin. I used to be a bit reckless, but I learned that you can’t go at every pin and you can’t rip it every time. Because I hit my driver well, I like to just hit is as far as I can, and can’t do that all of the time.
“The experience of Kevin and Sean being seniors and the level of their games has definitely helped me improve in that area, particularly in course management,” Maguire continued. I think the biggest difference between my game last year and this year has been that improvement in managing what the course gives you.”
That approach became evident during Thursday’s first round of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional, where he finished atop the leader board at -7 and helped the Ospreys to an A-Sun record round of 16-under-par. It was obvious that he was on his game, “feeing it,” if you will, just as his twitter handle @mjstr8vibin, would indicate.
“This is not a course you can overpower, you want to drive well and hit shorter clubs into the green, and I was able to do that today,” said Maguire. “I started out pretty smooth and played smart today.
“I knew I wanted to take advantage of the par 5s, but I wasn’t trying to go low today. That was something that was a result of taking what the course was giving me. I just feel like I am hitting the ball really solid, hitting driver really well and visualizing shots and executing.”
Entering the NCAA regional, Maguire had recorded three consecutive top 1- finishes that included the A-Sun individual championship. All total for the season he has posted four top-5 finishes, six top-10s and finished in the top 25 in eight of his nine tournaments. His 65 on Thursday is also a career-best, topping the career mark he set last season in regional play.
“MJ is hitting a lot of high quality shots,” said Schroeder. “Driving is his strength, and he was very successful in that area today. But he also has a good short game, has good hands and is good on and around the greens. Today he did not have to make a lot of long putts and that along with good course management is a solid recipe for success in golf.”
For Maguire, his expectations entering regional play simply involved keeping up the solid play that he has enjoyed for the last month. So as he begins the second round as leader, will he approach the game in a way that could affect his play? His coach says no.
“MJ is very competitive, but he is probably one of our most even keel players. Bad shots don’t bother him, so I don’t think he will feel any additional pressure because of where he is on the leader board.
“We talk a lot about process and he has bought into that, so I would think that moving forward he will continue to do the things that helped him a solid round today”