Return to Amateur Golf Has Meason Loving Game Again September 12, 2016 | Erie, Pa. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Emilie Meason has her U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur career off to a good start, and best of all, she's having fun. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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An even-par 72 on Sunday put Emilie Meason in the clubhouse with a 36-hole score of 7-over-par 151, securing her the No. 11 seed in the match-play draw at The Kahkwa Club. Having dealt with some wrist issues throughout the weekend, a pair of rounds that comfortably advanced her through stroke play was just what the doctor ordered.

“I was kind of all over the place yesterday afternoon, and started hitting it better today, so I’m seeing a lot of positive progress throughout the week,” Meason said after her round on Sunday. “If I can see a few putts roll in, I should be doing pretty well.”

That thought process is one that Meason, 25, is doing purely out of her love for the game and competition, but one she used to be obligated to go through when she was playing for a living. A four-time All-America player at the University of Georgia, Meason embarked on a brief professional golf career in 2013. For less than a year, the Snellville, Ga., native played in events on the Symetra Tour and the Suncoast Ladies Professional Tour (now the National Women’s Golf Association), and found that life as a professional golfer wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Luckily for Meason, a member of her inner circle knew the feeling, and could provide advice on how to get back to competing at an elite level, and having fun doing it.

Several years before Meason, 2014 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Margaret Shirley-Starosto went down a similar path. After completing her standout career at Auburn University, Shirley-Starosto tried her hand at professional golf, but quickly determined that it wasn’t for her. Her first gig after ditching the play-for-pay ranks was a spot on Georgia’s coaching staff, where Meason, then Emilie Burger, was a freshman on the Bulldogs’ squad.

“Margaret has been such a great friend since day one. She was my coach in college and she was probably the best thing that happened to me at Georgia. She was there for me through the ups and downs,” said Meason. Shirley-Starosto was on the staff at Georgia for two seasons before leaving for her alma mater. “She’s just someone that I would always want to model myself after, she’s always been a huge mentor to me.”

The two have remained close, and Meason watched as Shirley-Starosto, now the executive director of Atlanta Junior Golf, went from being a rank-and-file professional on the mini tours to someone who has played in three consecutive Women’s Mid-Amateur finals. When Meason started to question her career path, she reached out to her former coach, and came to the conclusion that it was time to head back to the amateur game.

“You’re not supposed to have favorites when you’re a coach, but she’s one of mine. She’s really turned into a great friend. She was out there struggling professionally, and I told her, you’ve got to get back to where you love it,” said Shirley-Starosto, who defeated Lauren Cupp, 2 and 1, in the Round of 64 on Monday. “I told her about my experiences with amateur golf and the Mid-Am, and how much fun it is again, and how much better I play now than I ever thought about playing in college or playing a little bit professionally. You’re here because you love it, and you love to compete, and she’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever met.”

Margaret Shirley-Starosto provided valuable advice to Meason when she was moving back into the amateur ranks. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Meason gained her amateur status back in early 2015, and dove head-first into competition. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur that summer, and teamed with Shirley-Starosto and Lauren Lightfritz on the winning Georgia squad in the USGA Women’s State Team last September at Dalhousie Golf Club in Cape Girardeau, Mo. She missed the cut at the Women’s Amateur, so Monday was the first time she had competed in match play since the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. The results indicate she had little rust, as she defeated Sydney Wells, 4 and 2.

“It’s basically just going out and focusing on my game. If I sit here and worry about what my competitor is doing, then it’s just not good for me,” said Meason, who will face Tara-Joy Connelly in the Round of 32. “I’m having a lot of fun, knowing that I’ve given it all I’ve got, and if whoever I play in a match goes and shoots 6 under, you can’t argue with that.”

Meason now works as a client services specialist for her father’s tax and retirement advisory services firm. With a full-time job comes the quandary that many Women’s Mid-Amateur competitors have, a desire to keep their games sharp with a dearth of practice time. Opportunities to play and practice during the week are scarce, so Meason spends most of her weekend time on the golf course instead of the practice range. She plays a lot of matches with her husband, Willie, who played for the University of Arkansas.

“Just having him to play against has always been fun. My practice routine is I just play a lot. We don’t necessarily hit a lot of balls or putt as much,” Meason said. “Just going out and playing and having fun, that’s really kind of my practice routine.”

Fun is what Meason is having again. She would meet her mentor and close friend in the final if each of them continues to advance through the bracket. Meason would love to get there, but regardless, she is where she wants to be.

“I did the whole pro thing, and realized quickly it was overrated and I wasn’t having as much fun as I used to,” she said. “My goal is to get back into playing amateur golf and getting back to a competitive level, and playing in a USGA championship is the highest level you can reach. It’s good to be back playing and actually having a lot of fun now.”

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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