Mehaffey: I’ll only keep growing as a pro with valuable LPGA experience

Adam McKendry

Olivia Mehaffey (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

This year has proven to be a valuable learning experience for Olivia Mehaffey and, as the Co Down woman prepares to play in her third LPGA Tour event of the year, she admits she’s enjoying seeing her own growth on and off the course.

Since turning professional back in May, the 23-year-old has seen her fledgling career go from strength to strength, from making her professional LPGA debut on home soil at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational to making the next Stage of Q-School and then having another spot start at the Cambia Portland Classic last month.

She can tick off another milestone this week too: coming through a Monday qualifier to reach at least the first two rounds of the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey where she will tee it up alongside the likes of Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire at Mountain Ridge Country Club.

Mehaffey triumphed in a three-way play-off for two spots against Daniela Holmqvist – who took the second spot on the second play-off hole – and Wenyung Keh to book her place and give her another taste of life at the top level, somewhere she hopes to be on a more permanent basis sooner rather than later.

And while she hasn’t changed her game drastically since leaving her college career at Arizona State and joining the professional ranks, the Tandragee ace says she has been learning valuable lessons about how to approach events away from the course that have helped.

“Since I’ve turned pro, being starstruck on the range has faded away a little bit because I’m here to do work and I’m focused on the task at hand,” revealed Mehaffey, who tees off alongside Sandra Gal and Benyapa Niphatsophon at 1:54pm Irish time.

“It’s nice, I’ve learned a routine and what I like to do when I’m at these tournaments and what’s best for me – how I practice, what I do in my spare time, things like that. I’m finding now that when I’m out here I know what works best for me and I’m able to get into my own zone and do the preparation I need to do to perform the best I can.

“You learn something new every week. I don’t really like being in hotels, I like being in B&Bs and staying with hosts, seeing friends and coming back after a round and not staring at the four walls of a hotel room. You learn something new every week. You learn your limits and what you do best.

“So for me it’s all been about learning as I go and adjusting and adapting. Each week is different, too. I think it’s fun to see how I’ve adapted and grown.”

She had to learn about the pressures of Monday qualifiers the hard way, too. After several failed attempts to earn a Thursday tee-time over the last few weeks, she finally got her break when she made it into the play-off earlier this week after a two-under 69 was matched by Holmqvist and Keh.

While the play-off was actually something of a formality given one of the yet to be awarded sponsor’s invites would go to whichever player was eliminated – meaning Keh will also play in this week’s event – Mehaffey booked her place with a flourish, chipping in for birdie on the first play-off hole to pick up the first place on offer.

But that doesn’t take away from the pressure that players are under in Monday qualifiers, something which Mehaffey has discovered over recent weeks.

“You have 40 girls playing for two spots, so you need to have a good day to get in. I’d been in a play-off in one, I was third last week. It’s quite tough mentally,” admits the former Curtis Cup star, who has taken her time in New Jersey to spend some valuable time with coach Jorge Parada.

“But this week I came into it and I wasn’t expecting much because I had a flight booked back to Arizona if I didn’t make it and it’s my birthday this weekend, so I thought it would be fine if I didn’t make it. So I went out there and I was quite relaxed and it turned out quite well!”

A pretty good birthday present, then, for the soon to be 24-year-old and another chance to not only keep learning about her game but to try and enhance her profile on the LPGA Tour with some eye-catching play. If she can’t qualify for the Tour herself, then she’ll gladly take sponsor’s invites like in Portland.

But the overriding ambition, as has been the case from the start of the year, is still to earn her way onto the Tour next season through Q-School, with this another stepping stone on Mehaffey’s journey to having that coveted Tour card in her possession. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t care if she doesn’t win this week, but she does concede it’s not her No.1 goal.

“Q-School is still my priority, I’ve said that since the start of the year and that hasn’t changed. I got an invite into Portland last month and playing in that tournament was amazing, and playing in qualifiers was perfect because it kept me competitive heading into Q-School. Four more tournament rounds would keep me really sharp,” she adds.

“Any time you’re teeing it up in an LPGA event is amazing, especially when I don’t have any status. I love playing with the best in the world so I’m really excited for this week. Every time you go out there, (winning) is your goal for the week, but I don’t put any pressure or expectation on myself. I have small things that I focus on and things I want to achieve like hitting greens, so that’s where I focus.

“You don’t go to tournaments to make up numbers, you go to compete and play the best golf you can. I know I play my best golf when I’m relaxed and having a good time and trying to hit good shots. I try to focus on that more.”

Leona Maguire tees off alongside Danielle Kang and Brooke Henderson in one of the marquee groups of the opening round at 5:50pm, while Stephanie Meadow is out at 6:12pm paired with US Solheim Cup star Mina Harigae and Mo Martin.

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