CHARLESTON, S.C. – When it rains, Emma Talley hits balls out of the family garage onto the 16th fairway at Princeton (Ky.) Golf and Country Club. Dan Talley bought a house on the golf course for the resale value, never dreaming that it would pay for his daughter’s education and set in motion her eventual professional career.
Emma Talley is the only golfer in the family of six. Princeton, a town of about 6,000 in western Kentucky, is the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. Word will travel fast in Princeton that the optometrist’s youngest daughter has reached the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Dozens of text messages await.
“She’s a big talker,” said Emma’s mom, Jennifer.
Emma will be the crowd favorite Sunday at the Country Club of Charleston, for this Southern charmer has made an awful lot of friends this week. Talley, 19, thanked fans for coming and volunteers for their time throughout her semifinal match against Alison Lee.
“(She) always has been first class,” Alabama coach Mic Potter texted. He planned to make his way east to Charleston if Talley made it the 36-hole final. She’ll face Yueer “Cindy” Feng of China at 8 a.m. Sunday.
There’s no better accent in college golf than Talley’s thick, Southern drawl. Even the club’s members were talking about the way she described a putt Friday as being a “nice-un.”
Dan Talley was born in Indiana but played college football for Western Kentucky. He and Jennifer, a Kentucky native, met in college and have been married 33 years. Dad is pushing the cart this week and staying out of the way.
“I’m a nervous wreck most of the time,” he confessed.
Emma is subtle yet very obvious about her strong Christian faith, drawing crosses on her white tees and writing the word “Jesus.” She’s been doing that for years as a way to spark conversation with her peers.
Talley finished her freshman year at Alabama with a 3.7 GPA, a mark that made momma proud. Emma chose Tuscaloosa in part because she didn’t want to go too far away from her parents and certainly didn’t want to leave the South. It’s a five-hour drive to Tuscaloosa for the Talleys, who like to attend at least one football game each fall.
Since age 10, Emma has traveled to Paducah for lessons from Todd Trimble at The Golf Complex. Dan said his youngest would’ve been a decent enough player on her own, but Trimble made her great. Emma, always the social butterfly, also has a fan club in Paducah.
Talley began her semifinal match on a steamy day in Charleston with a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole. On the third tee, her opponent, the graceful Alison Lee of Valencia, Calif., began to suffer from a nosebleed. A fan and an official gave Lee some tissue to help stop the bleeding, but by the end of the hole, Lee needed to stop play.
A medic was called, and the bleeding grew worse.
“I want her to be all right; she’s my friend,” Talley said when asked if she was OK with taking a break.
Players are given a total of 15 minutes to take care of a medical problem before being forced to forfeit. Lee used all of that time before being told she needed to continue play. With a bandaged face, Lee headed to the fourth tee and striped one down the middle.
But Talley drained back-to-back bombs for birdie on Nos. 4 and 5 to take a 4-up advantage.
“It was 4 up but it was not over at all,” said Talley, who by the 16th hole had lost every bit of that advantage.
On the par-3 17th, Lee stood over a birdie putt with all the momentum in her favor but blasted it by the hole. The resulting three-putt sent Talley to the 18th tee, 1 up.
After hitting a perfect drive down the fairway, Talley turned to her father and said, “I feel like throwing up.”
Dan suggested they sing their lucky song, “Cruise,” by Florida Georgia Line.
Emma’s 4-iron into the green looked perfect, until it rolled all the way back down the false front.
“I hit it well,” Talley said. “Maybe I should’ve eaten more Wheaties.”
Lee’s approach shot didn’t even make it to the green. The match would come down to a chip-off.
Talley pulled out her 58-degree wedge and hit it to 1 foot.
“Mic Potter has helped her short game a huge amount,” Dan said.
Lee, needing to hole her third shot to stay alive, left her chip short and gave Talley a congratulatory hug. She then immediately retreated to the locker room to tend to another nose bleed. A tough finish all around.
As for Talley, she’ll likely head back to Jim ’N Nick’s BBQ for a grilled chicken salad to feed her superstitions.
This small-town girl has a big-time title on the line. Pass the cheese biscuits.