‘We Make Less Money Than Men – But We’re Making Progress.’ Meet Pro Golfer Stephanie Meadow

We caught up with Northern Ireland-born Stephanie Meadow to find out about life as a pro women's golfer.

Stephanie Meadow golf

Two weekends ago the big news in sports was, of course, Serena Williams’ Wimbledon win (and, y’know, that Djokovic guy) – but did you know that last weekend also played host to the Women’s US Open? That’s golf, for the uninitiated; and STELLAR had a chat with our very own Stephanie Meadow – the Jordanstown-born pro golfer – who finished third in last year’s Open, ahead of her disappointing early exit from this year’s Open.

We got her on the phone to ask about moving from Ireland to the US as a young golfer.

You moved over to the US a couple of years ago, right?

Yes, I did. I moved over when I was 14 or 15, in 2006, and I went to a Golf Academy called Heritage Academy for high school. That was in South Carolina – after that I went to the University of Alabama for four years. I moved back to South Carolina after I graduated.

Why did you choose the University of Alabama?

The golf programme is really good there but they also have a pretty good accounting programme. I majored in accounting, so that also came into it – it wasn’t all about golf! It’s a big school – I had visited it previously and I really enjoyed it.

So you’re setting yourself up for a solid career when you retire from the course…

Yes, I think it’s so good to know… there’s so much business involved in being a professional golfer that people don’t realise so it’s always kind of nice to have an idea of accounting stuff and how to run your own business, which it essentially is! It’s been pretty helpful so far.

When did you turn pro?

I turned pro last May – basically, as soon as you accept your first cheque, that pretty much makes you a professional! You have to work your way into getting status on the LPGA – the ladies’ professional golf tour. Last summer when I turned pro I got a bunch of exemptions, like exemptions into tournaments for that season. Then in December I went to something called Q-School, which is like qualifying school – a certain number of people earn their full status through that tournament – but I actually missed out on my status by one shot! It worked out well in the end though because I has played so well in the US Open last year, and I had status into some other tournaments out here, I had made enough money to re-shuffle my way into full status.

Will this be your second time in the US Open?

It’s actually my third – I played once as an amateur as well.

How does it differ from being there as an amateur?

It’s just a bigger stage really. At the end of the day, the courses are the same, you’re still trying to get the ball in the hole but I really enjoy playing professionally. You have little girls out here that want your autograph and you can be a role model and you’re in a position to touch someone’s life, which is always fun.

Did you have a golfing role model growing up?

Annika Sorenstam, she’s from Sweden, she’s retired now but she was definitely a role model for me. I met her a couple of times when I was younger and she was so nice to me and open about the game. I always just thought she was a class act, you know. She did a lot of things on the golf course, and off the golf course. For example, she has several businesses and foundations – I think that’s really inspiring. I also work with her the same sports psychologist she works with, so the fact that I know a little bit of insider information kind of made me like her even more!

What age were you when you got interested in golf?

I started playing when I was six or seven and I started playing Team Ireland stuff when I was 10 or 11.

Did you just pick up clubs one day and decide you wanted to play?

Pretty much! My Dad played a lot. He would go for lessons at the local driving range at Ballyearl Golf Club. I would sometimes go along and I’d take five minutes and have a little lesson and I just fell in love with it then. It all just went from there!

How did your move to South Carolina come about?

I was very lucky that my parents were able to pick up and leave. They had retirement opportunities, so they both retired and came over here with me. It was a big culture shock in every aspect, but I adjusted pretty quickly and I loved it – I was learning so much from the coaches and being exposed to different levels of players. In Ireland, there wasn’t really that many girls at a high, high level and to come over here and see that there are lots and lots was amazing.

As a woman, have you ever come up against discrimination on the course?

If you look at it from the money point of view, we make way less than the men – but I think in the last few years especially, the purses on the LPGA have gone up so we are making progress. I don’t know if we’ll ever make as much as them or be respected as much as the men but from an amateur standpoint, the ladies’ game is so much more relatable for the average man who plays golf at the weekend – we hit about the same distance as they do, whereas the average guys aren’t going to be able to play golf like the male golfers! Once you get the men out here to watch the women’s game you find that they really like it. The first step is getting people to watch though!

Are female golfers quite inclusive? Are there any Mean Girls cliques?

There’s a little bit, like in all sports. In general Europeans tend to stick together and I don’t have any Irish people out here but I’ve been embraced by all the European players. I have so many friends out here because I’ve been here so long and the people I knew in junior golf are all out here and so… Everybody’s welcome, everybody’s supportive, it’s not mean or anything like that!

What kind of snacks do you stash in your bag for an energy hit around the course?

I make my own trail mix – almonds and different nuts, then some dried fruit for a little bit of sugar. I’ll have some protein bars in there too – it depends what time I’m playing at and if I’m missing a meal.

If a girl wanted to get involved in golf, what would be your top tips?

I think just… I started playing with a girls’ group on a Friday and that really jump-started things for me. I think most golf clubs have some sort of junior programme and that’s a great thing. I’d tell the girls to go to that, give it a go, and see if they like it. You could also go visit your local pro – they’re such a good resource. Golfers really want other golfers to play so they’ll teach you!

Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow competed in the Women’s US Open. The Confederation of Golf in Ireland has partnered with Stephanie to get people to visit their local golf course with the ‘Get into golf’ programme, aimed at giving men, women and children of all ages their first taste of golf. For more information see www.cgigolf.org