Stephanie Meadow spurred towards Open goal by her family

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
22-year-old Northern Irish golfer Stephanie Meadow is a rising star in the women's game. She recently returned home to the club where it all began - Ballyclare in County Antrim.

Stephanie Meadow wants to emulate Rory McIlroy - after watching him hoist the Claret Jug and declaring "this one's for you, mum".

Meadow is Northern Ireland's new golfing sensation and she would love nothing more than to be able to dedicate an Open Championship to her supportive parents.

The 22-year-old from Jordanstown made a stunning debut in the professional game in June by finishing joint third in the US Women's Open at Pinehurst.

It came eight years after Stephanie and her parents upped sticks and moved from their County Antrim home to make their base in the United States.

That was because Meadow, at 14, had been accepted into a leading junior golf academy set up by Hank Haney, who was coaching Tiger Woods at the time.

The family's upheaval paid off when Meadow won a golf scholarship in the University of Alabama, where she won a record-breaking nine college tournaments.

Reflecting on her spectacular breakthrough, Meadow is aware of how much she owes to her parents whose sacrifices ensured she had a shot of becoming a pro. It bears a striking similarity to the support network enjoyed by three-time major winner McIlroy.

Stephanie Meadow
Holed the winning putt for Great Britain and Ireland in the 2012 Curtis Cup
Banked £160,000 by finishing joint third at the US Women's Open
That Pinehurst performance was her pro debut and lifted her from 601 to 95 in the women's world rankings

She feels winning a major would be the best way to thank her parents.

"Every parent sacrifices everything for their child and my parents have certainly done that," she said.

"To be able to dedicate an Open Championship to them would be special."

Meadow was back in Northern Ireland to receive an honorary lifetime membership at Ballyclare Golf Club.

She feels she can become one of the world's best, but insists she is staying grounded as she continues her education as a fledgling professional.

"I always knew I was good, but to come out of the gates in the US Open like that was pretty special," she said.

"I have always wanted to be one of the best players in the world but at the end of the day I am just trying to work hard and be the best player I can."

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy dedicated his Open Championship victory at Hoylake to his mother, Rosie

Stephanie's parents, Robert and Louise, said that she received wonderful support and encouragement from everyone at the Ballyclare club from the age of seven and that her success could inspire young girls in Northern Ireland hoping to take up the game.

"That is one of the best things to come out of all this, the amount of kids coming out to watch," Louise said.

"There has been a lot of talk of how McIlroy's triumphs in Europe and America have inspired golfers in Northern Ireland to take up the game and it seems that Stephanie is having a similar effect."

Meadow has decided to follow in the footsteps of McIlroy by electing to represent Ireland at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Golf's governing body is an all-Ireland thing so it would be wrong of me not to and I am honoured to represent them," she said.

Meadow confirmed that she will play in the Wegmans LPGA Championship, starting on 14 August, and the Canadian Open the following week, as she continues to establish herself as one of Northern Irish golf's golden generation.

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