Stephanie Meadow is determined to put a smile back on her face by winning her LPGA Tour card at the Final Qualifying Tournament in Florida this week.
The 2015 season promised to be a stellar one for the bubbly Jordanstown native after she burst spectacularly onto the scene in 2014, finishing third behind Michelle Wie in the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst No 2 in her first start as a professional.
But after agonisingly missing out to Karlin Beck on the 11th playoff hole for the final card at the LPGA Q-School 12 months ago, her family life was dealt a massive blow when her father, Robert Meadow, was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
The 23-year old took time out to help her mother care for her Dad at home and she played just one event, finishing tied 20th in the ANA Inspiration in April as a tribute to him, earning $26,632.
Robert Meadow sadly lost his battle with cancer in May but while Stephanie returned to action later that month and played another 11 events until the end of August, she was clearly not the same player and didn’t make another cheque.
“It’s been a challenging year of ups and downs but like any family who has a loss like that, you just have to deal with it and move on,” said Meadow, who begins her Q-School quest today alongside American Ani Gulugian and Japan's Chie Arimura. “Dad was a huge part of my golf game so that has definitely been a transition for me.”
Following the the devastating loss of her mentor and inspiration, she unsurprisingly missed 10 cuts and withdrew in her other start to finish her rookie year 131st in the money list and back at Q-School
“It’s been a bit of a struggle but it’s in the past now,” she said. "There are a lot more things that golf going on. I have to learn from it and go from there.”
A change of coach to Sawgrass based Spaniard Jorge Parada, who also works with Ana Nordqvist and Carlota Ciganda, has her feeling better about her game and her chances at this week’s five round test.
She will battle another 158 hopefuls over four days at LPGA International in Florida’s Daytona Beach with the top 70 and ties making the cut and competing for around 20 full cards in Sunday’s fifth and final round.
Meadow’s ball striking has suffered this year, especially her driving, but she believes she’s got the game to get a card at Q-School where consistency rather than red hot scoring is key.
“My game is a work in progress but it is close even though it hasn’t all come together yet in a tournament,” said the former Univeristy of Alabama star, who was voted the winner of The Heather Farr Perseverance Awar by her LPGA Tour peers last month.
“I am just getting back to what I used to do well and feeling a bit more comfortable back on the course again and just trying to be happy in general and keep smiling.
“I have a great support system, not necessarily all family but some family and some friends who have been great to Mum and I. I don’t know what we would do without them.”
As for Q-School, she said: “I have been working towards it for the the last two or three months and I know what to do and what has to be done.
“It’s not a week where you have to go shoot 66 in every round, you just have to be steady, make a birdie here and there and do what you are comfortable doing. You just have to be patient.”
Ireland’s Olympic Games team leader Paul McGinley has kept in touch with Meadow, who is set to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games alongside world amateur No 1 Leona Maguire.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to be there,” she said, knowing that having a full LPGA Tour card can only help her medal chances. “At the moment, I am just taking it one step at a time but it would be great to be there.”
As for the Heather Farr Heather Farr Perseverance Award — it's presented to the LPGA player who, through her hard work and dedication and love of the game of golf has demonstrated determination and perseverance on the road to fulfilling her goals — knowing her fellow players are behind her brought a smile to her face.
“It was great to get that and the best part is that it was peer voted,” she said. “So it was my fellow players who voted for me. They are all behind me as well. I'm just trying to keep on smiling.”