Golf

Stephanie Meadow relishing opportunities presented by Galgorm golfing event

Stephanie Meadow is pictured at the launch of 20x20, a campaign setting out to create a measurable cultural shift in the perception of women's sport so that it will be seen as something strong, valuable and worth celebrating

Truth be told, this week's ISPS Handa World Invitational Men/Women sees a welcome and long overdue return of professional ladies golf to Ireland.

The tournament, formerly known as the NI Open, has been transformed into a new global event with men and women professionals competing for an equal share of a $500,000 prize fund at Galgorm Castle and Massereene Golf Club.

“It's quite shocking really. I have been a pro for five years now and I still haven't had a chance to play at home,” said LPGA player Stephanie Meadow who is relishing the chance to finally compete in front of friends and family.

“For a country like Ireland which has so many great courses and so many great players to not have an event is pretty astonishing. Hopefully, this turns the page and there will be more to come.

“I can't wait. I'm expecting to see people that I haven't seen in a while. It's just a great thing to be part of. I'm really from just down the road so I'm quite proud to be able to compete at all.”

The last women's professional event to be held in Northern Ireland was the imaginatively titled Northern Ireland Ladies Open at Hilton Templepatrick in 2007.

The tournament, won by England's Lisa Hall, is notable for the emergence of two precocious young talents in Lisa and Leona Maguire who, now professionals, are returning to play this week.

The last Ladies Irish Open was held in 2012 when Catriona Matthew, the European Solheim Cup captain, who is also playing this week, triumphed at Killeen Castle.

The ladies game, at the professional level, has been left behind so it's easy to sense the hint of frustration in Stephanie's words who is an active and vocal ambassador for the '20x20 – If she can't see it, she can't be it' campaign.

The 27-year-old added: “I wish when I was 10 or 11 that I had someone to look up to, someone to point at and say, 'if she can do it, I can do it',

“It was a big guessing game for the rest of us really. There were some LET players but we didn't know how it all worked.

“I feel strongly about it. I was lucky in my really early days when I was eight or nine.

“I was in a girls group. I felt comfortable when I was introduced to the game and I don't think a lot of people are.

“I was lucky to get that. If I hadn't got that, would I be here today?

“It is something that I am passionate about so I don't really mind talking about it.

“Young girls might never have had the chance to see women professionals competing until now.

“If it affects a handful of girls that is ok. It doesn't have to be thousands, if two girls get extra opportunities, that means the world to me.”

For more information about the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, presented by Modest! Golf and to buy tickets visit https://www.worldinvitational.golf/

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