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Inspired by late father, Stephanie is looking to a bright future

 

By David Kelly

Stephanie Meadow has had enough of the dark side of life. The diminutive 26-year-old with a titanium spirit has crossed back over to the sunny side of the street after two years of turmoil, and is intent on staying there.

Having landed her LGPA Tour card, the US-based Jordanstown woman is back where she belongs, just 12 months on from the moment when believing her career was over.

The polar opposites of emotion have been endured by Meadow in recent years. An incredible pro debut saw her finish third in the 2014 US Open but within a year her world was shattered with the death of dad Robert due to cancer. Her golf naturally suffered as she tried to come to terms with the loss and she was further hampered by a stress fracture that Meadow felt was going to cut short a promising career.

However, at a visit to Rockport School Golf Academy, Meadow's bright smile was back along with a bubbling optimism as she looks ahead to once again taking on the best in 2019, having spent a year on the Symetra Tour - the level below the main Tour.

"2019 could be a big year for me, it's a great opportunity. I feel this is a second chance for me. This time last year I was coming out of my injury and I literally didn't know if I could do it anymore. I remember talking to mum and my boyfriend and I was in tears, and said, 'I don't know if I can do this'," said Meadow, who is sponsored by Investec Wealth and Investment Ltd.

"That's a very hard thing to go through and to be out the other side just a year on is pretty remarkable so it is a second chance.

"It was a system shock for me going back to play on the tour below. You have to swallow your pride and gut it out. You realise that golf doesn't owe you anything, even though you have had success in the past.

"There was a moment this year when I accepted that and then I just went to every tournament, just focused on playing well... and to get my Tour card again is great.

"Technique-wise I changed swing coaches and went back to what I did when I was younger with more a flat and around swing as opposed to an upper swing. That was the starting point, that I could say that is the swing that works for me and I'm not going to veer from that.

"Golf is a funny game because you can play so badly for so long and even though you might be hitting better you have to get over that hurdle mentally and I think around April I started to feel I can do this again... because it is hard when you have been kicked off the Tour and there is a lot of negatives there but once you see the positives you get the ball rolling and I must say I am very grateful for the support of Investec, who never hesitated to keep sponsoring me."

Underpinning all Meadow's drive for glory is the memory and passion of dad Robert, who was there every step of the way along her journey from a seven-year-old dreaming of glory on the Ballyearl Driving Range. The pain of his loss remains and she admits it took some time to process her grief and allow herself to carry on pursuing the golfing goals they shared.

"It was a typical father-daughter relationship, and we were very close because of the golf. I trusted what he had to say and he was always there to support me. As a teenager I didn't understand the sacrifices my parents were making but when you're older you start to realise it... I've always been a daddy's girl," said Meadow.

"Losing dad was just devastating. It all went so fast that a lot of it is blurry but to see someone go through that and the pain, it's just not a nice thing and to then try and support mum and be a rock for her... that maybe wasn't the best for me because I shoved it away for a bit. I didn't really grieve, I put it off and that wasn't good. It was draining.

"I was just trying to be supportive to everyone else. I knew that if I wasn't strong it would be harder for mum.

"Golf wasn't like a place I could go to get away from what I was dealing with, the pain of losing dad, to be distracted from the pain - it was the opposite, it was a reminder of him because he was so involved in my golf.

"That was the hardest part for me because I was so used to seeing him at the side of the fairway, things you do as a habit like looking up there and seeing him at the side of the fairway. When I was younger it was like, 'What's he doing here?' but then when you're older you realise it was a support and it was an inspiration because the Tour is a lonely place.

"Getting through the grief was a gradual process. Things over time get a little bit easier, you get more used to it. I wrapped my head around the fact that dad would want me to keep playing and want me to keep being successful and that's how I moved through it because I knew he wanted me to be out there.

"He remains my inspiration - and mum, she has always had my back too."

It was dad Robert's love for golf that ignited the flame of passion within her to reach for the stage walked upon by her hero, multi-Major winner Annika Sorenstam, and that would come for father and daughter at the 2014 US Open, encapsulated in one memorable moment.

"My dad was mad into golf and I used to get lessons at Ballyearl Driving Range and then it evolved into playing at Ballyclare and the girls group and then playing with my dad at the weekends. It was a daddy-daughter activity and I fell in love with golf and before I knew it I was beating him," added Meadow.

"He was an average golfer, he played off about 16 but he gave me all the support and he really believed in me as did my mum. I never felt there was a barrier to me not becoming a professional golfer and that is a great place to be family-wise, to have that parental support.

"Anybody that knew my dad would say that he was a bit over the top at times. He was very proud and on the louder side and I could hear him when I had finished at the US Open. He ran inside the ropes and this policeman thought he was some kind of randomer trying to come and get at me and do harm.

"That was pretty entertaining because I'm looking at my dad running towards me and this policeman chasing him and I'm thinking, 'Oh dad'… then when he hugs me the policeman backs off. It meant so much to him, all the hard work had paid off. Looking back on that obviously I didn't know then that he would pass away only a year later…

"That was the best moment in golf together, that was when he saw all his work pay off and all he had sacrificed for me. It's very special to know now that he may not be able to see the rest of my career in person but he was able to be there for that special moment."

It says everything about the esteem with which Meadow is held that her fellow Tour competitors presented her with the Heather Farr award for perseverance in 2015 as she came to terms with the death of her father and now she is back playing alongside them - including friend and Open champion Georgia Hall.

"Everybody knew what I was going through and I would get some letters in my locker. There are some girls out there who have gone through the same thing so I was able to talk to them. It's a big community because we travel everywhere together, 30 tournaments a year. To have their support helped," she said.

"You accept that you can be friends off the golf course and then on the course you want to kick each other's butts... everybody accepts that but then realise we do need friends.

"My goal is to be in the top 40 next year and when I see what Georgia did at The Open it was inspiring. We played Curtis Cup together, we're good friends and I was delighted to see her win The Open and I feel if she can do it, I can do it."

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