A Dream Come True For Stephanie Meadow

I always dreamed of having an LPGA Tour event at home.

I remember the Ladies Irish Open, a Ladies European Tour event, being played in Ireland when I was a young girl growing up in Northern Ireland. But that event was in the South. There weren’t any tournaments in the North. And while I’ve loved playing in the Tour’s events in Scotland and England, it never had the same feeling as getting to play at home. I always hoped there would be a Tour stop somewhere in Ireland. But finding out there will be a Tour stop just 20 minutes from my hometown is even better.

I grew up in Jordanstown. I still have a home there even though most of my family has since moved away. We had a wonderful home with a great street and lots of kids to play with. I have so many great memories of growing up there. We moved to the United States when I was a teenager but Jordanstown is still a very special place to me and always will be.

I became obsessed with golf and immediately knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. But, being a young girl, playing golf in Northern Ireland wasn't common. Back then, I was the only girl at the golf course. Being the only girl, I had to stand up for myself, make friends and be part of the group. That's the only way I could fit in, have friends and have fun. I learned early on how to stick up for myself.

My dad, Robert, was a golfer. He wasn’t a fantastic golfer, but he loved it and that’s how I got into the game. He taught me to play when I was about five or six years old and he was heavily involved in helping me advance in my career.

I was 10-years old and it was right around Christmas time when I started playing events in the United States. I remember playing with a girl that went to a golf academy. That’s where my parents got the idea of making the move to the States. My parents talked to her parents and four years later we made the decision to move to South Carolina. They wanted to make the move, too. It was a good experience for them as well and it definitely paid off. I’m eternally grateful to them for pretty much giving up everything and moving here so I could pursue my dream of playing professional golf.

I got to play at the University of Alabama, where I won nine times. That’s where I learned to win against the best girls in college. I brought with me the feistiness I found growing up in Northern Ireland. I think Irish culture is kind of like that. It's pretty rare for an Irish person not to be feisty. It’s just in me. Everybody grows up fighting for their own thing. I’m very proud of where I am from and to be able to represent them.

In 2014, I turned professional and made my debut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort. I finished third. It was incredible. Obviously, I didn’t know I was going to struggle a little bit in the following years, but the money kind of carried me through and I was still able to continue to do what I loved. I’m just so glad that my dad was there to watch me finish third. It was his dream too.

The next year, I earned my LPGA Tour card at the Qualifying Tournament. Just as I was about to leave for my first event of the year in Australia, I got a phone call that I needed to come home. My dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was already Stage IV. There was nothing the doctors could do. It was awful. It went from zero to 100 really fast. We did as much as we could for him. I stopped playing and dad went to hospice. We took care of him and I just wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.

In April 2015, I played in the ANA Inspiration, which was my first event as a member. My dad got to watch from home, which was special. That was a really hard time in my life. But my mom and I tried to be there for him in those last few months.

Stephanie Meadow at ANA Inspiration

My father died in May 2015.

I thought I could come out and play right after his passing. I remember it so clearly. I returned to the Tour in June at the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada. I lost it halfway through the round. I couldn’t do it. I looked over to the ropes and imagined that he was there and then he wasn’t and that just hit me so hard. I withdrew after the first round.

Like anyone knows, it takes time to get over it. I don’t want to say get over it, but to be able to move on and focus on the positive things. Having happy memories is very important, and I’ve been able to focus on those. To this day, I always remember what my dad might have said to me after a round or draw on that for motivation, and it’s still very important.

Dad would always walk along the ropes and cheer me on. He wasn’t really into the technical side of golf. He was just there to help me and support me. And he made the difference. He’s one of the main reasons I’m here today. My dad was everything.

Dad was all about giving 100 percent, no matter what, and having a good attitude. I try to instill that throughout my rounds and never give up. It’s not just in an 18-hole tournament where you don’t give up. It’s your whole life where you don’t give up. That lesson helped me cope with the next big challenge I had to face.

In the Spring of 2017, I had an MRI which revealed I had a stress fracture in my back. It was devastating. I felt like I was getting slapped in the face. It seemed like I was getting hit with one thing after another. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if my career was over or if I was going to be in pain all the time. It was a bunch of misdiagnoses and then to eventually find that out, it was devastating because I thought I was kind of playing okay. And then, all of the sudden, I had an injury.

Stephanie Meadow earns LPGA Card
Thankfully, I had some great doctors and some great physiotherapists that helped me get back to swinging pretty much pain-free, which is amazing.

In 2018, I started playing better on the Symetra Tour. I was putting myself in contention a lot and I felt more solid about my game. I switched coaches and began to see some life in my golf game again. I moved from Northern Ireland to do this, so I wasn’t going to give up super easy. I knew I still had it in me. My confidence was pretty low at that point, but deep down, I knew I could still do it.

In 2018, I finished sixth on the Symetra Tour’s money list to earn my card back to the LPGA Tour. To come back from Symetra, to gain your card again, to go through that, it’s tough. It’s not easy, especially when you’ve been to the LPGA already, and you know you’re capable of doing that. It would be easy to just kind of go the other direction. That entire year on the Symetra Tour was probably one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done because all I thought about was getting my card back. It was such a relief to get through it and get back to where I wanted to be.

I’m excited to return home this week for the ISPS Handa World Invitational. It’s the first time I’ve been home to Northern Ireland in more than two years due to the pandemic. I’m looking forward to spending time with my cousin and her two little girls. My home is a short 20-minute drive to Galgorm Castle, which will host this year’s event. I went there as a kid and took lessons there, too. I can still remember hitting balls as a young girl on the driving range and for there to be an LPGA Tour event there now is pretty awesome.

I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to compete in the tournament that as a young girl I had dreamed would be played in my home country. I wasn’t able to find a flight that would allow me to compete all four days and also make it to Japan in time to represent Ireland in the Olympics. But I will be at Galgorm on Monday and Tuesday to help put the finishing details on the event and I’m looking forward to competing next year.

It’s phenomenal how far we've come. This event will be fantastic in bringing together men and women to compete against each other. I was involved in the 20x20 campaign that helped to get more girls in Ireland into sports. To finally have an opportunity for young girls to be able to come and watch the best golfers in the world, where they've never had any exposure, I just think it can make a huge impact on little girls. They could be the next us.