From campus to LPGA, Meadow aces toughest tests

Stephanie Meadow finished third at the U.S. Women's Open.

SOUTHPORT, England – Stephanie Meadow spent four years at Alabama and never made less than an “A.” This tells us that young Meadow’s best asset sits atop her very slight shoulders.

“Never even made an A-minus,” she said, not meaning to brag.

Meadow’s big brain, however, doesn’t add up to a big head. Don’t look for her early success as a professional – solo third at the U.S. Women’s Open – to cloud perspective. She was more nervous trying to Monday-qualify for the Ricoh Women’s British Open than she was playing alongside Juli Inkster in the penultimate group Sunday at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort's No. 2 Course.

Meadow, 22, shot 69 at Southport & Ainsdale to play her way into her second major as a pro. The Northern Irish player also received a sponsor exemption into next month’s Wegmans LPGA Championship. Three of her first four starts as a pro will be in majors. She tied for third last week at the Ladies European Tour's ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters.

The accounting major banked $271,373 at Pinehurst, though she very nearly didn’t get a penny of it. Meadow had applied for a P-1 visa, which is for foreign athletes seeking permission to compete in the U.S., and it was still being processed when she turned professional. Without the visa, she would not have been permitted to earn money in the U.S.

Her parents received an email midround Friday at the Women’s Open, confirming that Meadow had gotten the visa. The Meadows were relieved, having no idea that their only child would enjoy such a lucrative weekend.

The last player to make such a splash in her pro debut at the U.S. Women’s Open was Stacy Lewis, who tied for third in 2008. Like Meadow, Lewis was trying to bypass LPGA Q-School by virtue of unofficial money earned as a pro. Back then, however, money earned at the U.S. Women’s Open didn’t count for non-members because the event wasn’t LPGA-sanctioned.

The tour changed that rule in 2013, which means Meadow’s $271,373 payday gives her a massive head start toward the goal of earning the equivalent of top 40 on the LPGA money list. The money counts for non-members as long as it’s made at a full-field event with a cut.

Meadow sent requests to tournament directors at the remaining events on the schedule but has yet to receive confirmations other than Wegmans. It’s possible that she could earn her LPGA card playing in majors alone.

Meadow’s finish at Pinehurst reminded Lewis of another rule that needs changing: a top-10 finish should result in an automatic exemption for the next week on tour, as with the PGA Tour.

“If you play good enough,” Lewis said, “you deserve to have your spot.”

Lewis has played alongside Meadow in a practice round and called her a “great putter,” high marks coming from the World No. 1. In the past six months, Meadow has added 8 pounds of muscle to that small frame, and she was pleased to see at Pinehurst that he kept up with the field off the tee.

One thing she has noted after two weeks in Britain: She needs to bring her workout bands on the road. Gyms aren’t as prevalent as they are in the U.S.

Meadow always told her father that she’d use her first big check as a pro to buy a BMW. While new wheels are on deck, she also is pleased by the other things such a payday affords, such as being able to travel as she pleases, bringing her parents along for the ride and the new caddie she picked up from Pinehurst.

Bradley Yutzy spent the past four years as a Pinehurst caddie. He came recommended to Meadow through a series of phone calls, and the two hit it off so well during the U.S. Women's Open that she hired him full-time.

Meadow likes that Yutzy doesn’t have any experience on tour.

“We can do it our way,” she said. “He doesn’t have any preconceived notion of what we should be doing.”

Until two weeks ago, Yutzy never had been on an airplane. His first stop: London.

“Landing was the best part,” he said.

After Meadow qualified Monday, she came to the course Tuesday hoping to have a look around. She was on her way to the tournament office to ask whether she could walk the course during the pro-am when she received a phone call. Lizette Salas had pulled out of the pro-am, so could Meadow tee it up in seven minutes?

Like so many things about Meadow’s young professional career, it worked out beautifully. She got a quick introduction to Royal Birkdale, and then played only nine holes Wednesday so she could rest up for Thursday’s 6:41 a.m. tee time.

Meadow signed Tuesday with Blue Giraffe Sports, the same company that manages Lexi Thompson, her playing companion the first two rounds. As for equipment, things aren’t likely to change much for the longtime Callaway player.

Her swing instructor, Alabama coach Mic Potter, will remain the same, as will her mental gurus from Vision 54.

When asked what Potter has meant to her game, Meadow said, “Oh, everything.”

Meadow, who graduated last spring, won nine times at Alabama and was a three-time first-team All-American. Potter took over as her swing coach midway through her freshman season.

At Pinehurst, Meadow’s mental coaches encouraged her to be herself. So many green pros go into the next level thinking they need to make big changes to succeed. Meadow knows better.

“I think the biggest thing I learned,” she said, “is that what I’ve been doing is good enough.”

Now, if she can only make it last.

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