By most accounts, the golf career of Stephanie Meadow was going along as smooth as sailing over calm waters.

A four-time NCAA All-American at the University of Alabama, Meadow, a native of Northern Ireland, launched her professional career by finishing in solo third place at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open in her debut tournament.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season with much anticipation of more success, Meadow’s season was interrupted by the discovery of her father being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

Putting her golf career on hold, Meadow went home to help care for her father, who eventually succumbed to the disease. In early 2016, Meadow was the recipient of the Heather Farr Perseverance Award, giving annually by a vote of the LPGA Tour players.

At the end of 2015, trying to regroup and rebuild her golf game, Meadow came out of the LPGA Tour Qualifying school with her full status card intact.

Playing in a limited schedule, she performed well enough to keep her card for the 2017 season.

“Ten weeks into the season, I was having a lot of pain in my back and they diagnosed me with a stress fracture, so I had to shut down the golf game and give it a rest,” Meadow said in a recent interview. “I gradually got my strength back, but the 2017 season was pretty much gone.”

Due to the timing of her injury and the number of events in which she competed, Meadow was not eligible for a medical exemption onto the 2018 LPGA Tour, thus her arrival with the Symetra Tour at the start of the current campaign.

“It’s been a good year so far, and I think I’ve played consistently well,” said Meadow, who will be playing this week, starting Friday, in the 5th Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.

By any standard, Meadow’s 2018 performance has been impressive. She’s got one victory — at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Beaumont, Calif., in early April.

She has followed that with six additional top 10 finishes, including a runner-up at the Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic the third week of July.

“The Tour is very deep, and there’s not just a handful of good players,” Meadow said of describing both the Symetra and LPGA Tour players. “I knew a lot of the names, but only a few did I know that well.”

Meadow said that the transition from the LPGA to Symetra events has been a good one, citing the courses being set up a little shorter and easier.

“I think they’re working to get the golf courses more similar to the LPGA courses,” Meadow said. “With the LPGA schedule, you’re doing more flying to the next event, while on the Symetra Tour you’re driving to a lot of the next tournaments.”

With smaller crowds and smaller purses, Meadow said there was the challenge to just swallow your ego and do the best you can.

“It’s just something you learn to deal with,” she said. “All of us here want to play on the LPGA Tour, so we all have the same goal. We’re all competitive.”

Now fully recovered with a healthy back, Meadow said she has seen a big improvement in her game.

“I’m hitting the ball better, and I’m hitting a lot of greens,” she said, noting that she ranks in the top 10 in nine different statistical categories.

Currently, she sits in the No. 3 spot on the official money list with earnings of $56,657, with the ultimate goal of finishing in the top 10 to earn her automatic trip back to the 2019 LPGA Tour.

She ranks first in sub-par holes and birdies, second in rounds under par (30 of 47) and is averaging 70.66 per round.

“I’ve always been a great putter, but I’m making more birdies and hitting the ball longer now,” she said. “The wedges are good, and I’m hitting it closer, giving me more good birdie opportunities.”

Meadow’s interview came the morning of her first round last Thursday at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge in South Dakota, where she struggled a bit in the first two rounds (73-71, 4-over-par and just making the cut), but finished solidly with rounds of 69-66 to place in a tie for 28th.

With the different adversities she’s now faced over the past three years, Meadow is prepared for the final stretch run of the 2018 season with that one goal in mind — getting back to the LPGA Tour.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence right now, and there’s a lot of excitement with the final events coming up,” she said. “If I play my golf game, the results will take care of themselves.”

Contact Brett Marshall at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.