Belfast native Olivia Mehaffey is enjoying the return to her home country and is relishing the experience of teeing it up once again at the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by Aviv Clinics.
Last year the 24-year-old made her LPGA Tour professional debut in the event and put on an impressive performance shooting rounds of 70, 72, 71 and 70 to finish in a tie for 17th place.
Since then, Mehaffey gained status on the Ladies European Tour (LET) through Q-School and improved her category after the first re-rank thanks to four top-20 finishes earlier in the season.
“It’s really nice to be back,” she said. “I have some nice memories from last year, played quite nice and more importantly, had all my friends and family here and it was a lot of fun. It’s nice to be close to home and feel that support.
“The season so far has been up and down. I got off to an okay start and really struggled the last couple months. I made quite a few changes behind the scenes, and I have been working quite a bit on my game. I think you just have to be patient and trust the process with it, but it hasn’t been what I wanted. There has been a lot of learning curves. I think that’s very important in your first full year.
“It’s crazy to think a few years ago we didn’t have any events in Ireland. I never got an opportunity as an amateur to play in a professional event, and now we’ve got this event and also the Irish Open later on, which is really exciting.”
This week sees two tournaments run side by side with 132 men and 132 women competing in separate 72-hole stroke play tournaments at Galgorm Castle & Massereene Golf Club.
Mehaffey will play alongside Sweden’s Julia Engström and France’s Celine Herbin at 9.30am local time at Massereene.
Looking back on last year, it is a tournament that holds special memories for Mehaffey not only because of the result, but also because it was the last time her father Philip was able to watch her play.
“This is the last time my dad got to see me play, and that to me will always be extremely special,” she continued. “The fact he even made it around all four rounds is remarkable for me. I think that makes me happy, but it’s been tough.
“You never know how you’re going to cope with these things. I feel like at the start of the year I tried to hide behind golf a little bit and it caught up to me where I didn’t take any time to focus on myself and to heal.
“I think it’s something I’m still working through and trying to navigate, and obviously my world is very different. Being here definitely makes me very happy. I have a smile on my face and some good memories.
“Golf has been a little tough for the last few months, so I want to really enjoy it. I think the opportunity to play at home doesn’t happen often; you get to stay in your own bed and have all your friends and family watching. I just want to enjoy it and see what happens. Not put too much pressure on myself.”