Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Tournament invites and sponsorship dollars will flow in

Sand and deliver: Stephanie plays her third shot at the par 4, 12th hole watched by her caddie Brad Yutzy during the second round of the 69th US Women's Open

Stephanie Meadow turned the Women's US Open into her personal field of dreams by clinching outright third place and a whopping $271,373 (£159.420) cheque in her first tournament as a professional.

Meadow (22), from Jordanstown, showed she's a major talent in the making as she swept to within three strokes of winner Michelle Wie with back-to-back rounds of 69 over the weekend at Pinehurst.

She was just one shy of runner-up Stacy Lewis, the women's world No 1 with a one-over-par total of 281 strokes for her 72 holes in the $4m championship, the richest event ever in women's golf.

This represents a truly phenomenal start to Meadow's new career just seven days after her decision to turn professional.

She showed remarkable maturity, composure and shotmaking skills on the notoriously difficult Pinehurst No 2 course, scene of Martin Kaymer's victory in the Men's US Open last Sunday week.

Most attention focussed on Wie, the only woman under par, as she clinched her long-awaited first Major title and fourth win as a professional at age 24 with a final round 70.

Yet Meadow showed her class as she recovered from two bogeys on her outward nine to post a phenomenal eagle three at 10 and then polish off a 17-foot putt for birdie at 18 to finish two ahead of Koreans Meena Lee, Sp Yeon Ryu and Amy Yang, who had been tied for the 54-hole lead with Wie.

Sharing third with Julie Inkster on two-over through three rounds, Meadow teed it up with the seven-times Major champion and Solheim Cup veteran, outscoring the 54-year-old veteran by six strokes.

Swedish golf legend Annika Sorenstam said of Meadow's performance: "Stephanie is a fine player, but she's also a very smart one. As she hung in there today, she certainly seemed to have the game for these tight, difficult golf courses."

This represents a hugely successful start to life as a professional and will make tournament organisers and sponsors sit up and take note of a player who had planned to try and Monday pre-qualify for LPGA Tour events – now she can expect the invites to come pouring in.

Meadow completed a glittering amateur career a fortnight ago by finishing as the joint top-scorer on the British and Irish team beaten in the Curtis Cup at St Louis Country Club.

A record-breaking nine-time winner during her four years on scholarship at the University of Alabama and a leading member of their National Championship-winning team two years ago, Meadow made it into her second women's US Open through pre-qualifying. She missed the cut as an amateur in the 2012 tournament at Blackwolf Run.

After an opening 71 last Thursday, Meadow shot 72 on Friday before Saturday's 69 propelled her to within four strokes of the lead.

In the fuzzy, sun-dappled afterglow at Fota Island, the future of the Irish Open looked secure.

After all, it's heading to Royal Co Down next year, where the event will be sold-out regardless of the Tour's decision to play Russian roulette with the Irish weather in the last week of May.

And the Lough Erne Resort is copper-fastened for 2017, as the Northern Ireland Executive, buoyed by the success of Royal Portrush in 2012 and their coup in bringing The Open back to this island, enthusiastically embrace the importance of tournament golf as a boost to tourism revenue.

Sadly, however, prospects are not so bright for the Irish Open's return to the Republic in 2016.

Platitudes were mumbled at Fota as the dust settled on a tournament that had everything except a 'home' winner for phenomenal 100,000-plus crowds.

Behind the scenes, however, hardball will be played between the Tour and Fáilte Ireland, whose ardour for the Irish Open does not match that of tourism officials in Northern Ireland.

Yet in 2016, more than ever before, an overall title sponsor will be essential to preserve the continuity of the event.

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