Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Incredible US Open debut puts Stephanie Meadow on road to millionaires' club

In the money: Stephanie Meadow sinks a putt at Pinehurst on way to £160,000 payday
In the money: Stephanie Meadow sinks a putt at Pinehurst on way to £160,000 payday

Stephanie Meadow is on course to become Northern Ireland's first sporting millionairess following a remarkable professional golf debut on no less a stage than the US Women's Open.

The rich list now beckons for the Jordanstown girl after her third-place finish at Pinehurst catapulted her into the top 100 in the world rankings and her $270,000 (£160,000) pay day has all but assured her of an LPGA Tour card, her ticket to previously undreamed of earning power.

"It was an unbelievable week," she said, speaking from America last night, as the magnitude of her achievement in her first pro tournament began to sink in.

"It was an honour to represent Northern Ireland and put women's golf on the map," 22-year-old Stephanie added.

"To start my career at the US Open is truly amazing. Patience is the key on a course like Pinehurst. I stuck to my game plan of being myself and committing to every decision I made.

"The support from back home has been unbelievable and now I can't wait to play in more tournaments and see what else I can do."

Meadow finished three shots behind winner Michelle Wie on Sunday, who was collecting her first major title.

At the moment Meadow is without an agent, a situation unlikely to persist for very much longer.

Wie, with whom Meadow played a practice round with last week, might have lifted the US Women's Open trophy – but Meadow is very much the name everyone on the LPGA Tour is talking about.

After walking away from Pinehurst with a cheque for over a quarter of a million dollars, she can look forward to guaranteed places at all the major tournaments and to some lucrative endorsements off the course.

Northern Ireland golfers are hot property all over the world right now and Meadow is poised to make the most of her Ulster connections Stateside.

The Royal Portrush member played some extremely consistent golf last week, closing with a pair of 69s over the weekend.

Her performance has lifted her from 601st in the world to 95th and on the basis of her performance at Pinehurst, she can only climb higher and higher in the rankings.

It may have been Meadow's debut as a professional, but she is far from an overnight sensation and has been steadily building a reputation as a formidable player since she moved to America full-time at the age of 14.

The new sensation of womens' golf broke almost every university record going as a player at the University of Alabama.

She finished her college career with nine tournament victories – triple that of any other previous player. She was British amateur champion in 2012, also the year in which she holed the winning putt in the Curtis Cup.

Meadow had played in two majors as an amateur, which she said helped keep her nerves in check at Pinehurst , just a week after her more famous Ulster male counterparts had failed to make an impact on the men's equivalent over the same layout.

"I'm kind of used to the big environment and the crowds and everything that goes along with a US Open," she said. "It's different, but I've worked my whole life towards this. I'm doing my thing. To start my professional career here is so amazing. I'm so blessed that it happened. It's awesome."

Although she is more used to the target golf style demanded by American courses she is more used to playing these days, Meadow says growing up playing links golf at Royal Portrush is still a distinct advantage.

"There's a little help there from my Portrush background, but Pinehurst is just the type of golf course where you've got to be accurate.

"You've also got to hit your numbers, and you've got to be patient because you're going to hit great shots and they're not going to end on the green. I don't know if it really suits anyone, it's just about execution."

Gaining her tour card on the back of the Pinehurst performance is a huge boost for Meadow – even Rory McIlroy needed more than one tournament on the European Tour to gain his playing rights.

It means she can commit to a proper playing schedule, which in turn will mean that she can plan for future majors, which she says she is now even hungrier to win.

"This whole experience is only going to make me work harder," said Meadow.

"I did not win – there are still people beating me and I am competitive, so I want to try and win majors some day.

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

"I always believed that I could do it after the amount of hours I have put in for I don't know how many years.

"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 am proud of myself for doing that."

The rise and rise of Northern Ireland’s latest golfing star

No-one who has followed Stephanie Meadow's amateur career can be surprised by the immediate impact she has made on the professional scene.

Although even the 22-year-old could not quite have expected to walk away from her first tournament with more than a quarter of a million dollars tucked away in the bank.

Meadow has meticulously plotted her way from the fairways of Royal Portrush to the LPGA Tour in America.

Her first bold step was to enrol in the Hank Haney international junior golf academy in Florida at the age of just 14. Haney, the man Tiger Woods turned to to remodel his swing, immediately spotted Meadow's potential and that helped her earn a golf scholarship at the University of Alabama.

In her first full season on the college circuit, Meadow won three tournaments. Victories four and five followed in the next year to set an Alabama state record and she eventually went on to win total of nine over the course of her three years, three times as many as anyone else at Alabama has ever managed.

Meadow was named as a substitute on the 2010 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team, which came as something of a surprise at the time, although she didn't get to play.

"Getting picked to represent your country is incredible, never mind the Great Britain and Ireland team," she said when she earned her full selection two years later.

"If you are going to turn pro, to have a Curtis Cup on your CV is one of the best things you can have because everyone knows about it.

“I felt I knew I was good enough to be on the team but any time you are in that type of selection situation when it’s out of your hands it does get quite stressful.

“So you never know until the actual day that your name is up there and then it's a wonderful feeling."

That match against the United States at Nairn in Scotland has gone down in history and one of the most exciting in the history of the competition. The United States dominated the opening stages, but GB&I staged a remarkable comeback with the honour - and responsibility - of holing the winning putt, falling to Meadow.

She duly held her nerve and saw her team through to a one point victory.

The summer of 2010 turned out to be a golden one for Meadow who also won the British Amateur Championship at Carnoustie and then she only just missed out to Leona Maguire in her quest to be crowned Irish Amateur champion as well.

It was always Meadow's intention to turn professional

after graduation from the University of Alabama, although she delayed that move to play in this year's Curtis Cup after leaving Alabama with a first class honours degree in accounting.

That didn't have quite as happy an outcome as the US regained the trophy 13-7 at the St Louis Country Club earlier this month.

But she went straight from that disappointment to qualifying for the Women's US Open.

She is currently in the process of applying for a new visa to allow her to remain in the States - surely a formality after her exploits at Pinehurst No. 2.

Apart from competing as an amateur back home over the summer months, she has spend almost all of the past eight years in the States and intends to become a full-time member of the LPGA Tour.

With her prizemoney from last week, she is well on the way.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk