"Golf in the Olympics can really help the women's game" - Stephanie Meadow sees the bigger picture in Rio

The Irish-born golfer discusses Zika, the Games and why life on the LPGA Tour is far from rosy

Stephanie Meadow

Image: ©INPHO/Getty Images

It's been a tough year for Stephanie Meadow. In May of last year she lost her father, Robert. Her form dipped on the grueling LPGA Tour stateside.

The Tour keeps her away from home for weeks at a time, where she takes one week off every four.

Born and reared in Jordanstown, Co. Antrim, she moved to the US with her family when she was very young. 

She spent time at the famous Hank Haney Academy in South Carolina, before furthering her education at the University of Alabama where she continued her career in golf.

In 2014, she broke onto the scene after a third-placed finish at the US Open. But since the end of last year, the 24-year-old has found it difficult to gather any momentum in her game. With four missed cuts from seven events this year, she admits the past 12 months have been a struggle.

"Last year was a bit of a rough year for me personally as well as golf-wise," she tells Newstalk.com. "I still love it and this year has been a lot better in terms of my golf. I love travelling and I love everyone on the tour, it’s like one big family. I know it sounds stereotypical but it is.

"The schedule is quite hectic. I had one stretch this year where I wasn’t home for eight weeks, which is pretty intense. On average I’m usually gone four weeks and then I‘m off for one week."

Stephanie Meadow's team-mate Padraig Harrington got underway at the men's event this afternoon. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Meadow now heads to Rio as a late addition to Team Ireland's golf team, alongside Leona Maguire, as well as Seamus Power and three-time major winner, Padraig Harrington.

"Originally when I thought I wouldn’t be going I was pretty upset. It’s been my goal for a while and it was kind of devastating.

"Then I heard some rumours that some of the golfers might be withdrawing and then I got a phone call from Paul McGinley and I knew pretty much straightaway when I got the call that I would be getting in. I was thrilled. Ever since I found out I’ve been excited to get over there and represent.

"I haven’t had a chance to chat to Padraig or any of the men, but I know Leona [Maguire] really well. We started playing golf together when she was 10, so I’ve known her since she was really small. I’m really happy to be able to share the experience with someone I’m such great friends with and we can remember it together."

Much was made of the decision of some of the top male golfers to withdraw from the Games this year, for varying reason, but most for fear of contracting the Zika virus. The world's top three golfers Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth all cited concern for the mosquito-borne virus, as did Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. The news comes upon the return of golf to the Olympics for the first time in over a century.

While many see this as an excuse to avoid another event on an already hectic Tour, Meadow understands that the opportunity is too good to pass up promoting women's golf.

"I think it’s a little different for us. Golf in the Olympics can really help the women's game, so we look at it as a risk that we are willing to take to help ourselves and the tour as a whole.

"[Zika] was definitely was a bit of a concern for me personally, but I spoke to some of the Irish doctors and when you look at the facts, the risk is definitely worth it.

"Obviously there’s the risk but I think you can take the necessary precautions and if it happens it happens. If you’re sensible about it, hopefully everything will be OK and no one will get it.

"I think the doctors told me that about one in 500,000 or 25 in 500,000, so those are the kind of risks that we’re looking at. It looks like a pretty small number."

Meadow during the 2014 US Open where she finished third. Image: Bob Leverone / AP/Press Association Images

With her form beginning to show some semblances of what it did two years ago, Meadow remains grounded when it comes to talk of medal prospects.

"Over the last few months I’ve played a couple of tournaments and I’ve been playing a lot better than I had been last year, so I’m pretty excited about that.

"The last week and a half I’ve been at my house in Carolina and I’ve just been practising, training and working out. I’m training not to get too worn out before I start, I’ve got to keep myself fresh. To have two weeks off before I head to the Olympics is really unusual for me. But it’s also really nice, I get to get some work in that I usually wouldn’t.

"Obviously I would love to medal, that’s the biggest goal. I’ve been playing better in the last few months so if things go right I definitely have a chance. I’ve been in high pressure situations before in Majors so hopefully I can use that experience to help.

"I’m also looking forward to the Olympic side of it. You know, it’s not a normal golf tournament. You get to meet a lot of really cool athletes and stay in the Olympic village and experience the Olympics as a whole which is something that’s really special. Not many people get to see that they do that.

Meadow also prepares for the Canadian Pacific Open in Calgary and the Monulife Ladies' Classic in Ontario to fund the rest of her season after the Games. And while the prize money is such an important aspect for her line of work, she insists she couldn't turn down the chance to compete in Rio.

"Any chance you get to represent your country on any level is always a great honour, but the Olympic level? You can’t get any better than that.

"For women’s golf it’s going to be excellent. To be on the top stage means that people who wouldn’t usually be involved will get to see it and that can only be great for the sport.

"We have a great tour here and in Europe but it’s certainly not on the level of the PGA. That means that any exposure that we can get will obviously be great for us and make us better as a tour.

"Golf in Ireland, in the women’s side as well as the men’s side, has really grown in the past five or ten years. I think for the girls to see us over representing Ireland in the Olympics, if everyone's talking about it, it could really jump start things a little bit.

"For myself, I want to enjoy it and work hard to see what I can get out of it. I think this event could help the sport greatly and I really hope that it does."

She begins her campaign on August 17 at the new Reserva da Barra golf course alongside Leona Maguire.