How Stephanie Meadow is using Tiger's inspiration to tee up US Open challenge
And why a final day battle against Paula Creamer could put her boyfriend in a strange position
Stephanie Meadow's voice bubbles with the joy of a young girl on Christmas Day opening the present she had longed for. On Thursday morning that's probably how she will feel for a fleeting moment before teeing off at the US Open in Charleston, South Carolina.
Meadow scorched across the golfing landscape on her professional debut at the 2014 US Open when finishing third, but within a year her world was turned upside down with the death of her father Robert due to cancer. A period of time away from the fairways eventually led to a comeback on the Symetra Tour last year, when she then succeeded in winning back her LPGA Tour card.
Meadow's return to the elite stage in world golf will not cause the same tidal wave of emotion that naturally enveloped Tiger Woods when victorious at last season's Tour Championship, and more emphatically at The Masters last month, but the US-based Jordanstown woman admits she can draw on inspiration from arguably the greatest exponent of the game.
"I was in Hawaii at the time with my boyfriend and fellow player Christie Kerr and we all got up at 5am, because of the time difference, to watch the final day of The Masters. It was amazing to watch. To see Tiger come back and be at the very top of the game again, and then the walk off for the hug with his son, was incredible - I have to admit I had a tear in my eye," said Meadow.
"Tiger's a real inspiration, an inspiration to me and to everyone I suppose. He went through his tough times, he fell off the radar and I wondered if he would ever play competitive golf again. But he still believed, when most people thought he couldn't do it again he kept believing.
"He kept working his a** off so he could rise to the top and that just shows you what can be achieved when you genuinely believe in yourself and give it your all.
"I'm really looking forward to competing at the US Open. I obviously have some very good memories from it. I'm in a place now where I know my swing, I know what works. It's not textbook and I'm okay with that, I know what I have to work on probably for the rest of my life... I've learned that lesson the hard way.
"I love the competition, I think you have to enjoy that, enjoy having the first tee jitters because that's all part of it - I love competing, and you have to because otherwise what's the point of working so hard?"
Meadow snatched her place in Charleston on the back of 36 holes at a qualifying tournament in Arizona, just half an hour away from her home. With just a 20-minute break in between rounds, Meadow hardly had time to consider her position as she aimed to grab one of the two slots on offer.
"At that point I was in the lead but obviously all the scores were not in so I didn't know exactly where I would be as I began my second 18 holes," she said.
"It turned out I had a four-shot lead and it was just a matter of getting out there and trying to make as many birdies as possible because it felt like a real shoot-out.
"There were a lot of LGPA Tour girls out there so I knew it was going to be tough. When I finished up I looked across at my mum who was there and she indicated that I had done enough, but of course you still have to wait until the fat lady sings.
"It was great to have my mum there and my boyfriend Kyle was able to caddie for me and his mum was there too. Kyle works with Tour player Paula Creamer full-time so on the golf course she has precedence over his girlfriend!
"I suppose one of the dream scenarios would be me and Paula battling it out on the back nine of the US Open. It is something that has been talked about but I won't say what was said.
"But, seriously, I've got to know Paula quite well and she's very nice, and with a lot of the girls on the Tour it's like a big family, I've a lot of friends on the Tour and that's how it should be."
After a frustrating start to her return to the LPGA stage, Meadow now feels she is clicking into the kind of form that made her an instant hit five years ago.
"It just felt at the start of the year that I would have a week when the irons were off and then my putting was off, but it all came together. I had actually changed my putter at the start of the year to a PXG one which didn't seem much different to the one I had used before, but I went back to the Odyssey and it just seemed to suit my stroke more and the roll was that little bit better," said Meadow.
"I felt my speed control wasn't quite there and sometimes it's not you, it can just be the putter - golf can be a weird game at times.
"I know I can compete with the best out there and I would say that now I'm back to playing as good as ever, and I'm actually driving the ball longer as well. I did some work with my coach Terry Rowls and it paid off.
"The big thing about being on the main tour is believing, knowing that you belong there, and if you can shoot 12-under on a Symetra course you can do it on the LGPA Tour as well.
"It's very easy to just get caught up on the whole idea of the LGPA Tour, to make the stage bigger than what it actually is, and the key is to focus on yourself and what you can do because I know that I can compete with them and there's a reason why everybody is here."