Stephanie Meadow is preparing for her senior year at the University of Alamaba and a probable move into the professional ranks in 2014. Picture © Pat Cashman/ILGU.ieIrish women’s golf has been blessed with some outstanding talents over the years – May Hewlett, Philomena Garvey, Lillian Behan, the irrepressible Mary McKenna. The list goes on and on.

Now, a new generation of stars is set to take up the baton and launch Irish women’s golf into a brave new era. The difference this time is that we are talking about the professional game, which has proved to be an elusive beast for the best Irish talent for many years.

Stephanie Meadow. Picture © Pat Cashman/www.cashmanphotography.ieNo wonder, then, that there is real excitement in the women’s game right now about Royal Portrush’s pony-tailed, pocket dynamo Stephanie Meadow, who is tipped not just to become a good professional when she finally takes the plunge into the paid ranks at the end of next year, but a great one.

Of course, all this talk is anathema to the 21-year old Ulster woman, who models herself on Swedish legend Annika Sorenstam – “because she’s a role model that’s do-able and definitely an inspiration” — and lives by the mental game philosophies extolled by Vision54 coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, who helped Sorenstam on the road to greatness.

“A lot of what they do is about getting away from technique and controlling your emotions, taking one shot at a time,” Stephanie explains. “It’s all the stuff that gets really redundant after a while and some people never really learn to do it. But they have really helped me because it is harder than it seems.

“The mental game is definitely becoming more of a strength for me and in today’s world with some many talented girls out there, every little thing helps. It’s definitely given me an edge for sure.”

While there has been much talk in Irish amateur circles over the past six years about the uber-talented Maguire twins, Lisa and Leona, Meadow has forged ahead to become the leading college player in the US, where she has lived and studied since her parents took the brave decision to move there for the good of their daughter’s golfing career seven years ago.

Currently ranked eighth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, she is the standout player for the University of Alabama, winning seven times over the past two seasons alone.

Last year, she was the heroine for Alabama in its NCAA championship win, the match winner for Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup and the last woman standing in the Ladies British Amateur Championship at Carnoustie, where she became the first Irish player to capture the title since Behan in 1985 and the first Northern Ireland winner since the great Maureen Madill in 1979.

Mary McKenna presents Stephanie Meadow with the Leitrim Cup as the leading qualifier in the Irish Ladies Close at Ballybunion earlier this year. Picture © Pat Cashman/ILGU.ieShe also made her second appearance in a professional major in the US Women’s Open. But while she missed the cut at Blackwolf Run, she learned from it and came back stronger than ever this year, finishing 47th ahead of the likes of Yani Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Karen Stupples and Sophie Gustafson in the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in California.

Stephanie Meadow lets fly. Picture © Pat Cashman/www.cashmanphotography.ieDisappointed to lose in the first round of the Irish Women’s Close at Ballybunion earlier this summer — she was beaten on the last by the outstanding girls talent Olivia Mehaffey - Meadow is preparing for the start of her senior year at Alabama, where she is majoring in accountancy.

Like another accountancy graduate, Pádraig Harrington, she is keeping her goals to herself, knowing that there is a fine line between those twin impostors of success and failure.

“You can make lists of goals and titles that you want but it is so hard in the US because there are so many good players and one shot can make a difference to being this that or the other,” she explains. “I am just trying to focus on playing as well as I can and improving on my scoring average from last season and see where that puts me. If it is No 1, it is No 1. If it’s not, it’s not. I was just pipped for the stroke average this year.

“It was a close thing all season - four or five shots difference over the whole year, which is nothing. That’s what it’s so hard saying you want to be this or that. It really is only a few shots and it’s the same in the pro game too. You just have to focus on yourself and if someone plays better than you, they do. If you win, you win.”

Meadow is at a loss to explain why it has been so difficult for Irish women to match their male counterparts and step up in the professional game,

“It’s hard to say,” she explains. “The professional game is such a completely different world. Some people aren’t great amateurs and get out there and they are brilliant or are great amateurs and don’t play well as pros.

“One thing does strike me, and it might be because I am out in the US, is that we play strokeplay all year. Strokeplay is a completely different game to match play and I don’t know  how much experience a lot of the Irish girls would have had with strokeplay.

“Most of the tournaments at home are matchplay and when girls get out of that routine and find themselves against the whole field and not just up against one player, it’s a difficult adjustment. It’s something you just have to learn to do consistently because that is how you make a living. And yet Rory and Graeme have managed to do it, so who knows. It just hasn’t quite happened yet for the girls.”

Since moving to the United States as a raw 14-year old, Meadow has matured into a world class player.  

Stephanie Meadow. Picture © Pat Cashman/“Living in America is great and I absolutely love it. I’ve been over there now for seven years and the practice facilities and the weather open your eyes to a new world competed to Ireland. There are just so many opportunities to get better.”

Her future is unlikely to be behind a desk in an accountancy firm, however.

“Hopefully I’ll be a tour player, not an accountant,” she says with a laugh. “I will definitely be finishing my last year at school and graduating and then we will see how we go from there. I’ll most likely got the LPGA Q-School but so many things can change your plans.”

Her performance in the Kraft Nabisco certainly gave her renewed belief in her ability to rub shoulders with the world’s best but she’s not getting ahead of herself.

“It’s been great. I played in the Ladies British Open in 2011 and missed the cut. That was my first major and it’s quite nerve-racking when you are around the people you have looked up to or aspire to be like. It is a bit of shock and you feel out of your element but I went on to play the US Open last year and while I missed the cut again, I felt a little more comfortable.

“This year at the Kraft I felt an awful lot more comfortable and it is all about getting the experience and I am lucky enough as an amateur that I have already had that experience and it is something that will definitely help me in the years to come.

“It was nice to know that I could play well and make the cut having started horrendously every day and been three or four over early. I was always fighting back on the back nine in three or four under and that proved to me that I just need to settle down the first nine holes and I can get the job done. It was a great experience and it was nice to have that breakthrough of making the cut because that’s a big wall to climb over.”

Meadow has high hopes for Irish women’s golf - “There are so many good players in Ireland now” — but for the moment her focus is on the US and the big leap into the professional ranks.

As world No 1 Inbee Park makes history in the majors, Meadow continues to work hard on the basics.

“Inbee winning three majors in a row is just amazing, really impressive stuff,” she says. “But to be honest, I don’t watch that much golf on TV because it bores me a little.

“I’d rather be out there playing.”

And with that she was off to practice. Annika, no doubt, would be proud.