Symetra Tour win big step in Stephanie Meadow’s quest for LPGA return


Stephanie Meadow was en route to Los Angeles when she called.

There’s a new LPGA event at storied Wilshire Country Club this week, and Meadow hopes to kick-start 10 weeks on the road by Monday-qualifying. That’s one of many unglamorous parts of professional golf: figuring out how to pack for months at a time.

There was optimism in Meadow’s voice. I could hear her easy smile coming through the phone as she talked about the 25-footer she made to force a playoff on the Symetra Tour last Sunday in Beaumont, Calif., and the subsequent 40-footer she converted to win the IOA Championship. It had been a long time since she’d been in a pressure situation and pulled out a victory.

When that last putt dropped, she thought immediately of her late father, Robert, and thanked him, as if he’d willed the ball in from the heavens.

“It means a lot that I could do that for him,” she said of winning again. “I feel like he’s watching.”

Meadow won nine times at Alabama and rewrote the record books as a near-perfect student-athlete. In her professional debut, she finished third at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open.

But then life threw a cruel curveball Meadow’s way. The night before she was set to leave for Ocala, Fla., to begin her rookie season on the LPGA, the doctor called to deliver the news that her father had cancer.

Dad’s cancer battle put career on hold

Anyone who watched Stephanie play knew Robert. The Meadows were a tight threesome, having moved to Hilton Head, S.C., from Northern Ireland to pursue Stephanie’s dreams.

The news put Meadow’s LPGA career on hold, and when she returned, everything about her life and her game felt different. Robert died of Stage IV pancreatic cancer in May of 2015, and Meadow finished out her rookie season in his honor. LPGA players voted Meadow the winner of the Heather Farr Player Award for her determination and perseverance.

Not long after Meadow thought she had turned a corner, a different kind of pain presented itself. Meadow first felt a sharp pain shooting down her back last spring. It grew worse over the summer. She’d be in the physio trailer getting treatment 10 minutes before her tee time. The exercises she’d been prescribed weren’t helping, and when hitting driver became out of the question, she asked to have an MRI. Within 30 minutes of the scan Meadow learned she had a stress fracture.

“It was tough because if I had caught it earlier I would’ve able to get a medical (exemption),” Meadow said. “I was only going to miss three events and you have to miss five to get a medical.”

The time off reconfirmed her love of competition and the need for balance in life. Vision54 coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott helped her find a new swing instructor, Terry Rowles.

Alabama coach Mic Potter said Meadow sent him video of her swing about a year ago and while it looked good, it wasn’t her style. Potter advised his former star to stay within her footprint. Now, with Rowles, Potter said her swing looks more like the one that got her to the LPGA.

A new mental challenge

After a missed cut at LPGA qualifying school in December, Meadow was presented with a new mental challenge – dropping down to the Symetra Tour. She took it hard but eventually viewed it as an opportunity to learn how to win again.

Meadow’s back injury caused her to hit some squirrely shots in competition. To replace those bad shots with good memories, she played in a number of Cactus Tour events in the greater Phoenix area, winning twice and losing once in a playoff. It all added up to that moment in Beaumont.

“I think the mark of a true champion is one that knows how to overcome adversity,” said Potter, “one that can master variability – every day is different. You’ve got to expect that. I think she’s really good at expecting that now. The circumstances she overcame are a lot harder than most encounter.”

Meadow knows 2018 won’t be easy. She doesn’t know many people on the Symetra Tour, where she’ll compete without a caddie to save money. It’s bound to be a lonely grind. But nothing tougher than she has already faced.

“I guess there’s a renewed fire,” Meadow said. “I kind of proved to myself that I can do this. You always say you can do it, but until you start playing better again – get back to where I feel like I should be – there’s a big difference between knowing and actually doing it.” Gwk

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