Stephanie Meadow’s back is against the wall again. Sitting 112th on the 2019 LPGA Tour Money List and staring Q-Series square in the face, she has one event left to better her LPGA status for 2020. That’s the kind of situation where players have to dig deep inside themselves. Where they have to draw on all the hardships they have overcome in their past. Meadow’s life is full of that. And her constant perseverance showed up Thursday at the Volunteers of America Classic, where Meadow shot a career-low 63 to take the 18-hole lead.
“I’ve come through a lot, and this is not exactly where I wanted to be on my fifth year on tour. But you know what? I’m here. I’m doing it,” Meadow said late on Thursday afternoon at Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.
It’s a throwback performance to the talent that Meadow showed in her professional debut at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open. The native of Northern Ireland, coming off a stellar collegiate career that featured a 2012 NCAA National Championship title at the University of Alabama, stormed to a third-place finish that June in Pinehurst.
It’s still her career-best finish, five years later.
Life has thrown Meadow plenty of curveballs since that grand entrance onto the LPGA stage. After earning her card for the 2015 season, her father Robert was diagnosed with cancer early in the year. Meadow left the Tour to care for him until he passed away a few months later. She won the 2015 Heather Farr Perseverance Award for how she handled what life threw at her.
Meadow’s mettle was tested again in 2017.
She suffered a stress fracture of the L5 vertebrae in her lower back. To compound the injury, she was misdiagnosed for 10 weeks. After the injury was properly identified, Meadow went under the knife, rehabbing for four months after surgery.
Unable to retain her card for the 2018 season, Meadow went to the Symetra Tour. She finished in sixth in the Volvik Race to the Card to earn her card again.
Once again, Meadow faced a hurdle at the start of her second go-around on the LPGA Tour.
“I fell down the stairs about seven days before I left for Australia. That wasn’t a great start,” Meadow told LPGA.com. “Rolled my ankle. Played in Australia in a lot of pain. I think that really hurt my confidence. I came off of Symetra playing great. All of a sudden, I wasn’t playing great.”
The 27-year-old missed the cut in her 2019 debut at the ISPS Handa Vic Open and Meadow’s early results showed how the ankle slowed down her momentum. Until late July, her best finish was T40 at March’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She even missed six consecutive cuts in June and July, moving her to reevaluate her approach to the game.
“If you’re just a little off, you’re going to be missing cuts. That’s how it is out here. I just changed my mindset, I was just so worried about making the cut,” Meadow explained. “In reality, you could make every cut out here, finish in 70th place and you’re not going to make your card. You’re not going to make any money, so it’s not about that.”
It wasn’t only a check on her approach to the course. Meadow constantly had family and friends reminding her of how many people would love to be in her shoes, playing out her dreams, no matter how trying they may seem.
With the adjustments, the winds of fortune turned for Meadow. Her perseverance resulted in back-to-back 11th-place finishes in mid-July at the Marathon Classic and Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. She also traveled back to her home country in August and captured the ISPS Handa World Invitational, a competition that featured men and women playing on the same course for the same prize money.
In her own words, today was aday for Meadow to battle. She rattled off five consecutive birdies from the second hole to the sixth to a bogey-free round. After play, Meadow sits alone atop the leaderboard for the first time in her career.
“You just have to keep battling,” she said. “Some days there’s days where you can’t battle, some days where you can. Hopefully there’s more days when you can battle than you can’t.”
With three days remaining for Meadow, all that she’s experienced has given her the confidence to know she can accomplish what she needs to do.
“I’m going to fight my butt off to be back here, and not just be back here, but winning tournaments and whatever top number you want to say,” she said. “That’s what I want.”