Meadow an instant superstar for Irish women's golf

Stephanie Meadow confessed that Rory McIlroy was her inspiration as she became an instant superstar by finishing an "awesome" third on her professional debut in the US Women's Open.

The 22-year old from Jordanstown — a college star for the University of Alabama until she turned pro last week — soared 506 spots to 95th in the world when she finished just three shots behind winner Michelle Wie at Pinehurst.

Encouraged by tips from McIlroy, Meadow earned $271,000 and will be guaranteed her LPGA Tour if she can earn another $100,000 on the sponsor's invitations that are now sure to come flooding through the letterbox now.

Asked to sum up her first week as a pro, Meadow beamed: "Awesome. It's been amazing. I couldn't have pictured a better way to start my professional career.

"It's pretty much a dream come true. This whole experience is only going to make me work harder.

"Obviously, I didn't win, there's still people beating me and I'm competitive, so I want to try and win Majors some day.

"So I'm going to go back and work hard. If you're a competitive person, this is a driving force, you do well and you want more. So that's what I'm going to do."

Her performance is certain to give Irish women's golf a huge boost with the ILGU now likely to attract hundreds more young girls to the sport.

And Meadow confessed that it was some tips from her own hero McIlroy that made all the difference having met the world No 7 during the men's US Open at Pinehurst two weeks ago.

Meadow said: "Rory has been my, a hero of mine for so long and I've always wanted to do what he's done and to finally kind of be on the same stage as him is pretty special. 

"I actually got to see him here last Sunday and I hadn't seen him in like five years. So it was nice to get a few words of advice from him. They obviously worked. Thank you."

Meadow and her family moved to the US when she was a teenager and she had coaching from Tiger Woods' coach Hank Haney before going on to a brilliant amateur career.

Winner of the British Ladies’ Amateur Championship at Carnoustie in 2012, she holed the winning putt GB&I in the Curtis Cup that year and racked up a record nine college wins for Alabama.

Her goal now is to follow in the footsteps of fellow Northern Ireland stars like McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, win majors and go on to become world No 1.

She said: "I've been here for eight years, so I guess my accent's gone a little. But trust me, I'm still Northern Irish at heart and I love home.

"It's amazing where I'm from. I've got Rory, I've got Graeme, I've got Darren Clarke, three amazing people."

She confessed that she wasn't really surprised that she was able to produce such an incredible performance on her professional debut. 

She said: "I don't know if it was surreal, because I always believed that I could do it. Honestly, the amount of hours that I've put in for I don't know how many years like that's what I've been working for.

"So to see all that pay off was really amazing. But to do it on my first week and to have enough confidence to keep going, I'm proud of myself for doing that."

McIlroy announced last week that he will play for Ireland in the 2016 Olympics but Meadow insists she hasn't made up her mind yet.

She said: "Rory and I grew up playing for Ireland because golf is an All Ireland sport. There was never a Northern Ireland team or we didn't play for the UK.

"So it is very difficult and I'll just have to wait. I haven't even thought about that decision yet."

As for her bid for an LPGA Tour card, she knew she was in the shop window at Pinehurst when it comes to getting sponsor's invitations for the rest of the year.

She said: "It's just kind of up in the air but obviously I don't have any status as of yet, so I just have to wait and see. 

"I know I'm in one Symmetra Tour event, I'll probably try and Monday qualify for the rest of the year.

"The biggest stage in golf is the US Open but I wasn't really thinking about invitations. I just came out here and this is what I've dreamed of for so long to turn pro, to start at a US Open, it's great."

As for Wie's victory, she said: "It's great to see her playing well. I think she draws a lot of people to the sport. So the more people we can get out here the better."

Meadow's performance is likely to have a similar knock on effect for Irish women's golf.