There are many reasons to like tournament sponsor exemption Olivia Mehaffey’s chances in the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic at Longbow Golf Club.
For starters, she graduated from Arizona State University, located 15 miles down the road in Tempe. The Northern Irishwoman is also a Carlisle Companies ambassador, and Thursday’s opening round just so happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day. Luck must be on Mehaffey’s side. But divine forces and a guardian angel have the Epson Tour rookie competing for something, for someone, more than herself.
“My dad [Philip] is the reason I play golf,” said Mehaffey.
Philip passed away on December 3, 2021, at age 59, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Growing up, Mehaffey and her father were partners in mixed events at their home club of Tandragee, and Philip was there—watching from his motorized scooter—to witness his daughter’s LPGA Tour debut at the ISPS Handa World Invitational last summer.
Mehaffey did not advance from Stage II of the 2021 LPGA Qualifying Tournament in October, and it was perhaps the biggest blessing in disguise, as she spent the final few months of her father’s life at his side.
“This was the thing I did with him. To lose that, I wasn’t enjoying golf when I first came back,” Mehaffey said after a practice round at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa on Monday. “To start my season, I changed my mentality to where I think he has the best seat in the house and is really watching over me.”
Before the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last April, Olivia found out from her mother Evelyn that Philip’s cancer had spread. She could have withdrawn, but Mehaffey played anyway.
“I wanted to play for him because I knew he would be watching [on television],” said Mehaffey.
And she’ll continue to play the game Philip taught her to love. Mehaffey will play to honor his memory, and she’ll play with him watching every shot for the rest of her career not on a flatscreen, but from the fields of an Irish meadow in Heaven.
“I created so many memories with him through golf and still feel like there’s a lot more to come,” said Mehaffey. “It’s something I didn’t really think [just a couple of months ago].”