After a run of seven missed cuts in a row, Olivia Mehaffey needed some time off to try and recuperate and regather herself going into the second half of the season, and she believes she’s found the right balance ahead of this week’s ISPS HANDA World Invitational.
The Tandragee woman has gone through a roller coaster of emotions over the past year, from making her LPGA Tour debut at this event a year ago and finishing tied for 17th, to the passing of her father Philip in December and then, understandably under the circumstances, failing to secure full status at either LPGA or Ladies European Tour Q-School.
Even this year has been a wave of highs and lows, Mehaffey picking up five top-20 finishes in six events at the start of the season before embarking on her current run, which has seen her fail to play a weekend since May.
It all culminated in a couple of weeks off to try and rediscover her passion for the game ahead of making her big return to home soil at Galgorm Castle and Massereene this week, and that break from competitive action seems to have paid off.
“(The game) feels much better,” she smiles.
“It’s been rough for the past couple of months. I’ve made a lot of changes. I’ve tried to go back to hitting more of a draw and what I played when I was younger – I’ve been fixated on hitting a fade for a while. I’m just trying to get comfortable and happy on the golf course again.
“The happiness is the major part for me. I haven’t enjoyed it as much. I love golf, but it’s been so rough the last couple of months it’s been hard to enjoy it, but I do feel like I’ve been getting back on the right track again.
“Mentally it’s been hard. It’s been a rough nine, 10 months. My life’s changed a lot and you never know how you’re going to handle it. My dad was such a massive part of my golf and I felt like I lost my biggest sounding board, and that’s something I’ve been trying to navigate through and I didn’t think it would be so difficult.
“But I’m definitely back on track. I love it again, I loved being out there today, I had a massive smile on my face and that’s the way it should be.”
It is worth remembering that Mehaffey is still in her first full year as a professional coming off her rookie season that was impacted by Covid-19 and events away from the course, so as talented as she has proven herself to be in a stand-out amateur career, there needs to be some modicum of restraint when it comes to expectations.
“Take a step back and look back at everyone’s journey, it’s never straightforward, there’s so many ups and downs. Any athlete goes through it and it’s how you handle it,” she points out.
“I still don’t have high expectations, I’m still trying to process so much right now where I’m doing the little things well and getting my mental processes right. It’s a real battle but I’m really enjoying it.
“Professional sport is not easy. No matter what sport you play it’s a challenging lifestyle. People think it’s so glamorous – it’s not.
“But everyone’s journey is so different. Some people come out of the blocks and challenge immediately whereas some people take some time to get comfortable. That’s the thing, it’s never smooth sailing. You never know when someone will make their mark.
“I’m so focused on the process and trying to be better and getting small wins, things I can control and monitor if they’re getting better. But I’m not being hard on myself. It’s my first year as a pro, I’m just trying to get better, and I’m obviously dealing with so many things in my personal life as a while.
“That’s what I’m chalking this year down to: learning as much as I can and seeing how I can build on it for next year.”
Heading into this week in Co Antrim, she’s hoping she can do some learning from last year and how she impressed then, which will hopefully spark a resurgence as she looks to build some momentum on the LET moving forward.
It’s been a fun week so far. She’s had plenty of requests for tickets – “Even my friends who don’t play golf want to come!” – and she’s also had her fellow pros incredulous at how the wind and the rain they were expecting in Ireland has been replaced by wall-to-wall sunshine and mid-20s temperatures.
“I’m telling everyone I arranged the weather for them!” she quips. “I’ve heard a few players saying they brought their mitts and woolly hats but they won’t be needing them!”
But being back at home and playing somewhere Mehaffey is so comfortable is undoubtedly a good way to kick off her run into the latter stage of the season, and she’s excited to get two chances to play in front of a home crowd this season.
Mehaffey will be back for the Women’s Irish Open coming up next month at Dromoland Castle, but first is getting the job done at Galgorm and Massereene first, and she’s banking on that experience of 12 months ago to push her on.
“I had a good finish (in 2021), I played really nicely, I had a lot of home support. It’s probably my favourite moment from being a pro golfer so far. I definitely have a smile when I come back here and you can remember some good shots that you hit,” she recalls.
“I look at where it was when I was an elite amateur – I never had the chance to compete in Ireland, and to have two events this year is incredible. To have Leona win (on the LPGA) kind of opened the floodgates, and things will only continue to grow. There’s a lot of junior girls out this week and I would love to inspire them to go on to big things.”