Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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HomeFEATURED WEBSITEAfter a grief-induced breakdown, Olivia Mehaffey is feeling the love back in...

After a grief-induced breakdown, Olivia Mehaffey is feeling the love back in her native Northern Ireland

ANTRIM, Northern Ireland – A twinkle surfaced in Olivia Mehaffey’s eyes as she fondly recalled the last time her father graced the fairways at one of her events, the 2021 playing of the ISPS Handa World Invitational.

Philip Mehaffey hadn’t gotten out of bed in months after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020, but after a motorized scooter was delivered to his home in the small village of Scarva, Northern Ireland, he came to see his daughter make good in her first LPGA start.

Although she expected him to simply make a quick appearance, Olivia was utterly impressed by her father’s determination to see her play, and the support helped spur her on to a top-20 finish.

“I kept looking every fairway and I’m like, oh, my gosh he’s still here. I think he needs to go home,” Mehaffey said Wednesday at Galgorm Castle Golf Club as she prepared for the final playing of the ISPS Handa International, as it was announced this week the event was not included in the 2024 DP World Tour schedule.

“So just having him there every round was so nice for me. So I think probably just those memories and like how special it was to have him there beside me every shot, every hole.”

Soon after her triumphant home debut, Mehaffey’s life slipped into a dark place. Her father succumbed to the disease in December 2021, and the former Arizona State star – one of three Sun Devils to earn All-American honors in all four years of college – threw herself headfirst into the game as a means to deal with the pain.

To open the 2022 season, Mehaffey subjected herself to a golf gauntlet; an eight-week stretch of consecutive tournaments that saw her passport stamped in South Africa, Thailand, Australia and Spain. When it was over, her game was slipping and she was flirting with a dangerous mixture of exhaustion and uncertainty, both on the golf course and off. She finally had a self-diagnosed breakdown after pulling out of the Skafto Open in Sweden nearly a year ago.

That’s when Mehaffey knew she needed time to process what she’d been through. Away from the game she loves.

“Grief is the weirdest thing I’ve ever been through,” she told the Irish Times as part of a fascinating read. “I think that’s one of the reasons people don’t talk much about it. It’s because it’s so hard to explain. You don’t know when it’s going to come.

“I’ve had times when I’ve felt totally fine, and then all it’s taken is one thought to trigger it and I’m a mess. And in life, we’re basically taught that everything can be answered. But everyone’s experience is so different, it comes to different people in different ways and at different times. That’s what makes it hard for people to understand.”

Olivia Mehaffey and her father, Philip, and mother, Evelyn

She put the clubs down. She stopped thinking about attacking flags and started contemplating what made her tick. After months of reflection, Mehaffey posted on her personal blog at the beginning of 2023 that she was emerging from the depths she’d suffered through.

“As I look back and reflect on the last 12 months, it is easy to only see the hurt, the hard times and the tears. I still feel the scars that 2022 has given me. But I am also able to see the progress. I know where I was, the dark places I experienced alone and felt the lowest I ever have. I also see the progress,” she said. “I recognize the work I have put into getting myself out of a dark hole and the improvements, although it still isn’t where I want it to be. I am proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone, for being brave to get help and for admitting to my struggles. I know 2022 has given me the ability to have new tools and strategies that I have never had before.”

To see her this week at the ISPS Handa, back in the comfort of her homeland, is to see a player who seems to have found the balance necessary to succeed. She bounced through the media center for interviews Wednesday with the wide smile and long blonde locks that made her look native to the Tempe, Arizona, campus where she spent so many successful seasons.

Mehaffey posted a best-ever third-place finish on the LET Tour at the Ladies Open By Pickala Rock Resort in Finland a few weeks ago, and she hopes that with friends and family on hand this week, she’ll be ready to again do her father proud, even if he’s not following along on each fairway.

“At the start of the year I didn’t set any goals. Normally I set where I want to finish, order of merit, world ranking, try and win tournaments. I didn’t do any of that this year,” she said. “I just wanted to come back from my break last year and really enjoy golf, and frankly I’m doing that again, which is great. So I’m just going to keep that same mentality for the rest of the year.

“I think when you’re enjoying it you’re playing good, so that’s sort of my only goal. Try not to put no pressure on myself, no expectations, which is difficult at times to manage, but I think it’s very important.”

Mehaffey prepared for a busy stretch by employing a strategy she hadn’t been comfortable with in the past – staying away from tournament golf. When she starts her first round today at Galgorm Castle, she will have been off the road for three full weeks.

The balance seems to have put her at peace.

“It’s been nice having a few weeks off. Took the first week and didn’t play. Felt like I was getting a little bit burnt out; played a lot of golf,” Mehaffey said. “And then last two weeks just working a lot with my coach. It’s been nice to prepare for this. It’s going to be a really busy finish to the rest of the year. The LET schedule is pretty busy.

“So a lot of practicing and just really get prepared for obviously Irish Open after this as well. It’s great to have two events at home in a row.”

Just as women’s golf is rising in Ireland, a key event is taken off the schedule



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