Stephanie Meadow back on course for 2017 season after loss of beloved father
Stephanie Meadow will head to next week's opening event of the LPGA season in the Bahamas convinced her career is back on course.
In her first professional event, the Northern Irishwoman finished a remarkable third at 2014 US Women's Open - just three shots behind winner Michelle Wie.
Meadow had turned pro after an impressive collegiate stint at the University of Alabama while her amateur career also included winning the 2012 British Amateur title in addition to two Curtis Cup appearances for Great Britain & Ireland.
But within seven months of her remarkable entrance to the professional ranks at Pinehurst, Meadow's world was turned upside down as her beloved father Robert was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Four months later, the golfer's father passed away, leaving her struggling to comprehend the awful turn of events.
In Meadow's own words, her parents had "sacrificed everything" to allow her to follow her dream.
"When I was 14 we moved to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where the International Junior Golf Academy is," recalls the 24-year-old.
"Dad was already retired and mum (Louise) took early retirement which was a really big sacrifice for her because she loved her job.
"But they believed in me and they did it. I have to be very thankful. When I was younger, I didn't realise how big of a commitment it was for them."
Her father's illness had been diagnosed a few weeks after she had missed out on a full LPGA Tour card for the 2015 season, with the circuit's regulations meaning the $271,000 dollars she earned at Pinehurst still hadn't been enough to secure her playing privileges.
"There was a stupid LPGA rule where I couldn't get my card (from the US Open because I was a non member). Then I went back to Q School and I lost in a 10-hole play-off.
"You have to be top 40 in the money list if you are a non-member to get your status as opposed to top 80 if you are a member, which I was."
But Meadow's frustration at the quirks of the LPGA's rulebook soon was put into sharp perspective by her father's unexpected illness.
"When he was sick, I took a lot of time off and spent as much time as I could with him.
"But then I jumped straight back into the professional world not even a week after his funeral.
"If I had to do it again, I would have sat back and processed things before heading back out.
"But it was one of those things where Dad was such a big part of my golf that I wanted to head out again for him."
Two weeks after his death, Meadow had to withdraw from an LPGA event in Canada midway through the second round after breaking down while attempting to survey a shot from the middle of a fairway.
"I just wasn't ready to play. It was just too raw and too fresh at that point."
The grieving Meadow didn't win a dollar during her remaining nine events in 2015 as she missed every cut.
"I kept playing because it's my job. You can't just sit at home. But nothing went for me."
Meadow ends run of 11 missed LPGA cuts
But, the Ulsterwoman is no quitter and by last April the signs were there, in practice at least, that her game was returning.
A run of 11 successive missed LPGA cuts finally ended in New Jersey in early June and six weeks later, came the news that the withdrawal of Dutch players Anne Van Dam and Christel Boeljon had earned Meadow a place at the Olympics.
"Rio was a real turning point for me. I heard it behind the scenes that the Dutch situation was maybe going to happen but I was telling myself not to get my hopes up.
"When it did happen, I saw Paul McGinley's number pop up and I knew exactly what was happening.
"When I got to Rio, it was a very cool experience being in the cafeteria and seeing all the sports stars walking about."
Meadow opened with a disappointing 77 in Rio but then produced one of the rounds of her career to fire a second-day 66 as she eventually finished in a share of 31st place.
"Obviously I started really badly but that second round really spurred something inside of me. It only takes one round or maybe one shot to kick-start a season."
A couple of weeks later, opening rounds of 66, 69 and 69 left Meadow sharing third place heading into the final round of the Canadian Open before she eventually finished in a creditable share of 10th.
"The top-10 in Canada was the hard work paying off. People are telling you that the hard work will pay off but when you are waiting six months it's hard, so it was nice to have that."
Crucially, the cheque for $41,000 ensured that Meadow would finish the season inside the top 125 in the LPGA money which meant that she could look forward to playing in close to 20 events in 2017.
The Northern Irishwoman was unable to improve her status at the Q School in November as she finished just outside the top 20 but her outing in the Bahamas next week should be the start of a busy year for the South Carolina-based golfer.
"I'm guessing I'll get 17, 18, 19 events and then if I play well enough, hopefully the Asian events too, which could bring it up to around 27.
"Basically the Asians tournaments are top 70 no-cut events and even if you finish last you make six grand which isn't anything like in the men's but still big for us."
Meadow also heads into this season boosted by securing a new sponsorship deal from Irish investment firm Investec, who already count former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley as one of their brand ambassadors.
"I'm definitely heading in the right direction. The last part of the year was pretty successful and I'm aiming to maintain that momentum."