Where once upon a time the route from amateur golf to the professional sphere was rarely taken by Irish women, a sort of treadmill has been set in motion in recent years. First there was Stephanie Meadow, then – with huge impact – there was Leona Maguire. And now, Olivia Mehaffey is chasing her own professional dreams.
Mehaffey followed in many ways similar footsteps as Maguire by continuing his education before heading to the main development circuit in the United States, the Epson Tour (formerly known as the Symetra Tour).
In Mehaffey’s case, her college education was spent at Arizona State University – where she earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership – and while excelling academically, the 24-year-old golfer from Co Down also earned the top marks on the golf course, leading ASU to the National Collegiate Athletic. Association (NCAA) titles in his time there and playing in two Curtis Cup games for Great Britain and Ireland.
And being great friends with Maguire, Mehaffey tapped into new LPGA Championship winner Drive On’s own experience playing the developmental round en route to earning her full LPGA Tour card.
“I talk to Leona every week. We’re really good friends, and I’d say she’s one of my best friends, and it’s really nice for me to share her ideas with her. I ask her a lot of questions because obviously she’s been where I am right now.
“She played a year and a half on the Symetra/Epson Tour and it was very reassuring for me to hear from her that she thought it was one of the best things for her career, learning about life on the road, get used to all these things.
“I will play about two tours, the Epson and the Ladies European Tour (LET). It’s one of those years where you go with what you can do, going back and forth between two tours. I talked to Leona about it. It’s extremely difficult to do both, so you want to focus and concentrate on a really good bonus at the end of the year, whether you get your card for the Epson Tour or the top five in the Race to Costa del Sol and you can upgrade to the Q series. So both circuits have advantages and disadvantages. I’m kind of in a space now where my season is pretty open. It could go either way.
She added: “I sat down with my trainer [Jorge Parada]my psychologist [Mark Elliott], and we set goals, both mental and performance goals. I set myself these goals… I want to win this year and I want to get my LPGA card.
“Then I focus on the day-to-day things that I need to be better at. I think the biggest thing I need to see improve is my mental game. That’s why I met Mark at the end of last year. I said, ‘I’m mentally giving it my all. I want you to push me. I want to work hard on it”.
“I think being in a good space off the golf course and when I’m happy on the golf course again, enjoying it, being in contention, handling situations a little better, would be most important to me. “
As it happens, Mehaffey could have made it to the start of this week’s Ladies European Tour, the Kenya Open. However, she has opted to stay in the United States to continue working on her game, with a likely starting point for her season being next month’s Carlise Arizona Women’s Golf Classic at Longbow Golf Club on the perfectly timed Epson Tour. to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day.
Mehaffey sadly endured a difficult end in 2021 when her father, Philip, passed away. Mehaffey got her wish that she stick to her plan to play LET Qualifying School, where – rather cruelly – she was denied a full playing card by suffering a final double bogey. Nevertheless, his status should ensure him entry into a large number of tournaments.
“I was not well placed mentally. I’ve had a lot to do obviously, but I’m looking back at the last three years and with the status I’ve achieved I’ll be at most events. But last year was an extremely tough year for me, on and off the course, probably the toughest I’ve faced, and hopefully I won’t face anything like last year for a long time. I think you have to, like Jon Rahm said, you have to have such a short memory, and I think I’m focusing more on what I have, and this year ahead, and I’m very excited for that.
Golf has been an integral part of his life since the age of six, playing very often with his father and brother and learning the techniques.
“I really like golf. even on the low end, it’s been such a part of my life since I was so young. I’m very passionate about what I do, and I like to work hard, and there will be good times and bad times, that’s something that happens in any sport, in any mode of life, but it’s how you react.
“So I’m really excited to start this year, kick off the season and start enjoying it again.”
Mehaffey also welcomed Golf Ireland’s new strategic plan which aims to open up the sport to more girls and make it more accessible.
“There are a lot of areas in strategy that I think are really, really exciting. I’m very passionate about the junior girls and giving back to them in that way, so I think to get them more involved it’s going to be some very exciting years.
“Without golf, I know my life wouldn’t be the way it is now. It’s been a big part of my life since I was about six years old, and I just want other girls to have the same opportunities as me and realize how much fun it is. and I think that’s more the direction it’s going where it’s more inclusive, more accessible too, hopefully more fun.
And the fun part is something Mehaffey hopes will be part of his ongoing competitive game, juggling professional life on both circuits – the Epson and the LET – with the intention of joining Meadow and Maguire on the circuit of the LPGA.
Turned professional: 2021
Amateur career victories:
2015 – Women’s Scottish Open
2016 – Irish Women’s Open, Irish Close, Welsh Women’s Open
2013-2016 – Home Internationals (representing Ireland)
2014 – Youth Olympic Games (representing Ireland)
2014-2018 – European Championships (representing Ireland)
2015 – Junior Solheim Cup (representing Europe)
2015, 2017 – Vagliano Trophy (representing Great Britain and Ireland)
2016 – Espirito Santo Trophy (world championship, representing Ireland)
2016, 2018 – Curtis Cup (representing Great Britain and Ireland)
2018, 2020 – Palmer Cup (representing the international team)