Olivia Mehaffey has arrived in Rancho Mirage, California for the first leg of the LPGA qualifier. It’s a week that feels like the end of a two-lane highway – worn down over the years of practice and preparation, with the option to get off at various points along the journey – crossing the cusp of a one-way street of a lifelong dream as a professional golfer on the LPGA tour.
After turning pro in early May, the Arizona State University alumna is now in the starting blocks for the next phase of her career.
“This week I’ve been preparing and preparing all my life,” said Mehaffey. “Apparently, [the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf in] Northern Ireland [on the LPGA] It was a lot of pressure to have family and friends there. Then professional debut [on the Symetra Tour at the Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship], that’s three tense moments. Excited for this week and a new challenge. “
These and future experiences were made possible by Mehaffey’s deep desire sparked five years ago at the AIG Women’s Open, which happens to be the final major of the 2021 season, to be played this week at Carnoustie Golf Links.
“When I was 18, I played in 2016 [AIG] Women’s Open in Woburn, my first big and first professional event, ”said Mehaffey. “Being with the best players and really getting a taste of what it is like to play in front of an audience, run on the fairways and see Michelle Wie, I left this week and it’s been the same every time since. I want it a little more. And you realize the steps you need to take to get where you want to be. Those weeks meant so much because every time I tee off with the pros as an amateur, I thought, ‘I just want to be out here so much.’
“It’s crazy, this is my first time going to Q-School. I wanted to leave three years ago but fell and broke my hand. Then of course the coronavirus last year. It’s being prepared for next year, so it’s an important week. “
One person the Northern Irish native has looked up to over the years is former Sun Devils alumna and two-time LPGA Tour winner Carlota Ciganda. In 2015 the two met at the St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Germany. Mehaffey was 17 years old and competed for Team Europe in the Junior Solheim Cup, while the Spaniard was preparing for her second appearance in the European Solheim Cup Team.
Six years later, Mehaffey and Ciganda are good friends. Mehaffey says so much that “I’ll just text her and she’ll be one of the first people I go to.” But the first few introductions were a little outside the norm of Mehaffey’s typical extroverted personality.
“I remember being on the Junior Solheim Cup team, just in my element. We were on the ropes and I followed her all the time, ”said Mehaffey, who lives in Tempe, just down the street from Ciganda in Scottsdale. “We went into the team room and met everyone on the team. When I finally met her I was too shy and so overwhelmed to go and say hello. When you meet someone you see on TV and aspire to be who you are older, it’s kind of crazy to meet them.
“Now she is someone who helps me so much. Same trainer [in Jorge Parada] and practice a lot together in Arizona. And I’m always at her home for dinner. Funny how it all turns out. I was very shy and am usually not shy. “
A good example of “normally not shy” was in November 2018 when Mehaffey faced 2021 PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson, a 45-time PGA TOUR champion, at the unveiling of ASU’s state-of-the-art practice facility , Thunderbirds Golf Complex at Papago Golf Course. The 12 acre Sun Devils home was designed by Mickelson.
“When they opened the facility, Phil Mickelson came by and just hung out with the teams, everyone talked to him. I asked him if he would like one closest to the needle. We went down to the range, asked someone the length of the barrel and they said, ‘Okay, one ball the closest,’ ”Mehaffey said. “Phil hit the needle first, right on, and then says, ‘The number is wrong. I hit that perfectly. ‘ The number was wrong, but we chatted and he gave me two. He spent the whole day with us and it was a lot of fun.
“I’m usually not shy and I don’t know what was wrong with me when I first met Carlota.”
Back in Northern Ireland, Mehaffey trains at Royal County Down and Tandragee Golf Club. As for the States, she “hasn’t really committed anywhere yet, so she’s still practicing at Papago”.
The experiences on the track have undoubtedly prepared them for the LPGA qualifier. Just look at the tie for the 17th appearance earlier this month at Galgorm Golf Club, her first LPGA start as a pro.
It is the off-ropes experiences, like those with Ciganda and Mickelson, that have contributed just as much to a long and fruitful career on the LPGA Tour. Every opportunity has also shaped her voice as a role model for the next generation of girls in Ireland and around the world.
“This is so important to me [to inspire the next generation] and that has been important since my youth. I grew up with the boys and it was all about Rory [McIlroy], Shane [Lowry], Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley. It was dominated only by men. Now times are changing with Leona [Maguire] out there and Stephanie [Meadow]. Growing up in Ireland I didn’t have women to look up to, just the boys, ”said Mehaffey, a two-time amateur competitor for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. “I am very lucky in my two golf clubs, where I can spend a lot of time with the juniors and help them. It means so much to me and I probably have a better time than her, I’m in my element and just enjoying it so much.
“Golf has given me so many great experiences. I would love if some of the girls lived what I did because I know my life wouldn’t have been the same without golf. The places I’ve traveled and the friends I’ve made are all thanks to golf. If they can enjoy it, look up at me and think, ‘Gosh, this is so cool she’s playing for Ireland’ or even, ‘She played in Augusta, that’s great, and she went to college in America ‘and I can help inspire, that would mean a lot. “