As part of Women and Girls’ Golf Week Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow writes this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where she tells her inspirational story having overcome the death of her father and serious injury to reach the LPGA Tour.
Since turning pro, I have had a crazy five years. Truth be told, I’m not sure where to start! I guess it’s best to go from my first pro event at the U.S. Women’s Open – where I finished third. I was super excited to be there as after going through college and amateur golf you just can’t wait to turn pro. So, to have the experience of being in contention to win a Major in my first pro start was unreal. It came with a few learning lessons too as I was thrown into everything pretty quickly, but I was so happy and couldn’t have asked for a better start. I obviously didn’t know at the time that I’d have a few rough years after that, but the prize money from that definitely helped me down the line. I had high expectations for myself after that performance, but then it was back to trying to figure out how to make it as a pro, how to go week to week, how to play ten weeks in a row, how to handle working with a caddie. All those rookie things you have to learn are still there, and some people adjust really quickly – some don’t – and I was definitely still struggling to figure it all out, even though I’d done so well in my first start.
At the start of 2015, two days before I was due to fly to an event in Australia, I found out that my dad only had a few months to live. He had gone to the doctors thinking he just had an upset stomach, but later that day he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and was told there was nothing they could do. It was horrific. He was in so much pain in the end that I’m glad it was short, but it is so hard to have to go through all that and to have to watch your father go through something so horrendous and not be able to do anything about it. I had to quit golf for a while to help my mum take care of him – it was so hard and anybody who goes through it, my heart goes out to them. He was a big part of my golf career – he was the reason I started playing golf – so I often look back now and remember the advice he gave me which still spurs me on.
I thought the best thing was to go back out and play – but I just fell apart. I was out in Canada playing in an event, and I was luckily with two girls I knew, because when I got to the tenth hole I broke down in tears. I had looked over the green expecting my dad to be there, because he used to watch me a lot, but when I realised there was no one there, and he wasn’t going to be there any more, it just set me off. Luckily my playing partners were really understanding and I managed to finish the round, but after that day I realised I still wasn’t ready and it took me a while to get ready to play again. When I look back now though I am so thankful that he got to see me play so well in a Major. To turn pro and do something good while he was still alive is very special and I am sure he is looking down on me now.
A year later I was playing in the Olympics – it was one of the best weeks of my life. The golf part was very similar – same girls competing, same rules officials – but being around the Olympic Village and going to eat and seeing all these famous athletes you see on TV, I know we’re on TV too, but it’s different when you see Michael Phelps walking by – I also managed to go and watch him race for the last time! When you’re there and they play the national anthem it’s a very special feeling as it’s a different feeling when you represent your country. It’s the most nervous I’ve been on the first tee, and I really hope that I can qualify and do it all again in Tokyo next year.
At the beginning of 2017 I suffered a serious injury. I had been feeling pain in my back for about ten to 11 weeks and after receiving some not so great medical advice and playing through the pain I found out that I had a stress fracture in my spine. I thought something wasn’t right as this was different to the pain or stiffness you can get week in, week out. Knowing what I know now I should have gone for a scan or had a second opinion, but when you’re out there – battling to keep your card – it’s not easy to just throw in the towel and withdraw. That’s not really my personality as I always just try to keep going. It was getting worse and worse until it got to the point where I swung a driver and it only went 115 yards. I went in and had an MRI that day and it turned out to be extremely bad timing for me as I was only one event short of a medical exemption. I should have known the rules better, but I had never been through that situation before and it was definitely a life lesson.
I took three months off completely and after tonnes of rehab I eventually went back to compete but on the second-tier Symetra Tour. It’s not the easiest thing to do, you have to swallow your pride and go out there and grind. I am actually really glad that it happened because you start to appreciate what you have when you’re on the LPGA Tour. All the opportunities you have don’t come on the mini tours, and although it sucked everything happens for a reason. I had a really good team who were very positive and that was one of the reasons why I was able to get my card back. I even had my boyfriend working for me as a caddie. He caddies full time on the LPGA Tour, but on his off weeks he was coming to see me and to help me out. Bless his heart he must have worked six months straight. I actually played better statistically with him on the bag – but I don’t think long term it is sustainable as it is a lot of pressure to just have that one person earning the household income. It was a lot of fun and it was great to have someone carry my trolley and clean my balls!
This year I’m feeling really good. I had a tough start to the season on the LPGA Tour and was missing cuts by one or two and getting frustrated, but I’ve had a couple of high finishes in the last two weeks and think my game is in a good place. I went to a different sport psychologist earlier this year and she has helped me rediscover my fire as I’m not one of those players who can stay level and keep calm. I think that comes culturally from where I’m from, but I think I need to have that determination and high energy to play my best golf. I was feeling like a bit of a walking zombie before, but now I’ve made that switch things are improving and hopefully everything will keep going well for the rest of the season.
I can’t wait to play at home in Northern Ireland in the World Invitational later this month. I played in the Vic Open in Australia earlier this year, and although it was slightly strange to have men there at first it was really cool to be able to talk to the guys as there’s so much we can learn from each other. It’s fabulous the press that golf in Northern Ireland is getting at the moment, and to have this event coming up with equal pay is amazing and I would expect there to be a fantastic crowd there as people in Northern Ireland love their golf. It will be the first time that I will play in my home country and it’s so close to home for me. My cousins have been seeing me on billboards outside their house, so to have my family there and supporting me is going to be really special. Girls in Northern Ireland have never been able to see female pro golfers compete in an event at home before, so it’s hopefully going to have a big impact on the next generation too.