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'I know I'm good and can compete with the best but it's now about fulfilling that potential'

The42 meets Ireland’s only female professional golfer currently on the LPGA tour, Stephanie Meadow.

Stephanie Meadow is Ireland's only female professional currently on tour.
Stephanie Meadow is Ireland's only female professional currently on tour.
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

THE FOOTAGE IS a little grainy but it makes it all the more captivating.

Filmed at the renowned Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in South Carolina, the short clip – no longer than 30 seconds long – tells you everything you need to know about Stephanie Meadow.

The Jordanstown native had barely arrived in America but she was already the centre of attention. Talented, determined, ambitious, level-headed and humble – Meadow was always destined to go all the way.

“If you put a bet on her to reach the top, it’ll be a pretty safe one,” Haney, who was once Tiger Woods’ coach, says to the camera. He knows a star when he sees one.

But in the space of twelve short months as a professional, Meadow has experienced the thrilling highs and endured the crushing lows a game of such fluctuating fortunes can throw up.

It’s been a whirlwind start to life on the tour. Finishing third at the US Open – on her professional debut – last June was followed by the agony of missing out on her tour card after a playoff defeat at qualifying school.

Her performance at Pinehurst provided further evidence of Meadow’s undoubted potential and further enhanced her burgeoning reputation after a prolific college career.

US Womens Open Golf Meadow announced herself to the golfing world with an incredible performance at the US Open. Source: AP/Press Association Images

But it’s been a tough year for the 23-year-old. Six missed cuts from seven tournaments on the LPGA Tour tells its own story – yet it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Meadow didn’t lift a club for five weeks at the start of the season after her father was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Life can so often provide us with a sobering dose of perspective and for the first time since she can remember, golf was put firmly on the back-burner.

Meadow’s father was an avid golfer and introduced the game to his daughter at Ballyclare Golf Club when she was just seven. Sadly, Robert Meadow passed away in May.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle,” Meadow tells The42. “With my Dad passing away, it’s been difficult but I’m coming through and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.

“My Dad was a big golfer and I started with him and he got me out on the course. It all went from there.”

From an early age, Meadow was a star in the making.

After winning the Irish Girls’ Championship, Meadow moved across the Atlantic to Hilton Head where, along with her family, embarked on the next stage of her golfing education and took the next step on the ladder.

It was at the Hank Haney Academy where Meadow caught the eye of coaches on the look-out for serious junior golfers. Meadow had it all.

Just like Graeme McDowell and Paul Dunne, Meadow combined academic studies – accounting – with golf at the University of Alabama as she became one of the most coveted players in college golf – Meadow helped Alabama win its first NCAA Women’s golf title in 2012.

“It was a great thing for me to do as I got a great education and now have a back-up plan as you never know what’s going to happen,” Meadow says of her time in college golf.

Womens US Open Golf This year has been harder but Meadow is determined to reverse her fortunes. Source: AP/Press Association Images

“You’re exposed to so much more over there. If you’re in Ireland, it’s such a small country and you don’t get that exposure or experience of playing with the great players on the big courses and stages.

“You might be a great player in Ireland but there might be 20 players in America who are better then you so you have people to compete against and learn from which is what makes it so worthwhile.”

Meadow’s coach at Alabama, Mic Potter, has said she was ‘the best player in the history of Alabama women’s golf’ with nine individual tournament wins to her name.

Having soaked up a wealth of golfing knowledge in an environment designed to make fledgling golfers battle hardened for life as a professional, it was clear from the outset that the transition would be seamless for Meadow.

In the summer of 2012, Meadow helped Great Britain and Ireland to Curtis Cup victory and then reinforced her standing as the leading amateur in the game with individual success at the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship.

It wasn’t long before that fresh-faced teenager had become the first player born in Ireland to turn professional and play on the LPGA Tour in four years.

As it so happened, her first taste of the professional circuit came at the US Open.

“It was a week I’ll never forget,” she recalls. “It reassured me that I could compete with the best and I really felt like I belonged at that level.”

Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow 8/6/2012 Meadow playing alongside Leona Maguire during the 2012 Curtis Cup. Source: David Cannon

Michelle Wie won her first Major that week while the then world number one Stacy Lewis was second. The biggest names in the week adorned the leaderboard in Pinehurst and the new kid on the block was one of them.

Meadow left Pinehurst with a cheque for €200,000 and, just as significantly, the confidence that comes from such a performance on the biggest stage.

But sport rarely follows the script.

A couple of months later, Meadow was at Daytona Beach in a quest to secure her tour card for the 2015 season.

She eventually suffered heartbreak at the LPGA qualifying school as Karlin Beck holed a 75-foot chip on the 11th hole of their playoff to earn the 20th and final card up for grabs.

“It was so disappointing but this year has been fun. I’ve really enjoyed it. You get to travel the world and see some awesome places so it doesn’t get much better than that.

“I’m lucky that my Mum has been able to travel with me a lot and it’s been really good to have somebody on the road with you but it’s like one big family on tour.”

Meadow, currently ranked 141st in the world, was back on this side of the Atlantic last week for the Women’s Open at Turnberry. But it just isn’t happening for her at the moment.

Her two rounds were blighted by damaging bogeys and doubles and Meadow eventually fell way short of the cut mark on 12-over par. It was a far cry from the exhilarating heights of Pinehurst twelve months previous.

Yet Meadow remains purposefully focused and is determined to achieve what she set out to do.

“I’ve been given the environment to grow and develop and now I just want to see where I can get to,” Meadow continued. “I know I’m good and I enjoy competing with the best but it’s now about fulfilling that potential.

“I have a lot of personal goals – Solheim Cup, win a Major, everything – but it would just be awesome to be a role model or icon for girls growing up.

“I didn’t have anybody when I was growing up and I kind of wished I did because you need someone to look up to and I feel I can be a role model for the next generation.”

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Ryan Bailey

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