CHARLESTON, S.C. – The chants of “Roll Tide” echoed through the gallery at the Country Club of Charleston on Friday afternoon as Emma Talley holed a pressure-packed 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole to keep her semifinal match going against Su-Hyun Oh, of Australia.
It got so loud that one might have thought the University of Alabama had just scored a touchdown.
Playing the 113th U.S. Women’s Amateur in the heart of Southeastern Conference territory definitely has fueled the 19-year-old from Princeton, Ky., who just completed her freshman season at Alabama, where she earned second-team All-America honors.
That energy could be felt throughout the later stages of the quarterfinals when Talley and Oh were the lone competitors on the course.
“I don’t know if they are Alabama fans or SEC fans,” said Talley. “ There’s definitely a connection there.”
Talley holed several clutch putts – none bigger than the 18-footer for birdie she made on No. 16 to halve the hole – and then watched the 17-year-old Oh, ranked No. 2 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, miss a 4-foot par putt on the 19th hole (No. 10 on the course) which gave Talley the victory and a spot in Saturday’s semifinals against Alison Lee.
Even without the chants, Talley has enjoyed quite the roll this week.
Maybe it’s her nine previous USGA experiences, including a pair of U.S. Women’s Opens in 2011 and 2012, that have made her feel at ease. There was a time when she would show up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior so nervous that she couldn’t breathe on the first tee. In five appearances in that championship, she never advanced past the Round of 16.
Being one of three amateurs to make the cut at last year’s Women’s Open at challenging Blackwolf Run gave Talley a confidence boost, though failing to qualify for match play at the Women’s Amateur later that summer proved she still had work to do. .
A year of college golf also matured Talley as a person and player. She loved everything about school – her teammates, friends and attending Alabama football games – but there were a few highs and lows on the golf course. Those experiences helped Talley learn to better prepare for big competitions.
“I know everything I need to do,” said Talley, “so now when I come out here, I just want to have fun and do my best because I can’t do anything else.”
That mental preparation has eased her nerves. Feeling tense as she strolled down the 18th fairway on Friday all square against Oh, Talley went off-topic with her father/caddie, Dan. The two haven’t discussed golf much all week. On Friday, they decided to hum lyrics from Florida Georgia Line, a popular country music duo, to lighten the mood.
“Today we sang ‘Cruise’ lyrics all day long,” she admitted.
With her father helping her keep her cool, the commotion from the large gallery and Golf Channel television cameras didn’t faze Talley. A few years ago, she might have been bothered by the extra attention. Now she’s comfortable with it.
“Wow,” she said of the atmosphere. “This is awesome. At the time, I didn’t know if I was going to play tomorrow. But [I know] this is what I want to do forever.”
Even friends from Kentucky, who were vacationing in the area, made an appearance, including a congregation member from her church in Princeton – a photo-journalism major at Western Kentucky University who sacrificed part of his vacation to shoot some pictures for the local newspaper.
“This is what you dream of,” said Talley.
So far 2013 has been a good year for Kentucky-based golfers in USGA championships. Kenny Perry, of Franklin, won the U.S. Senior Open in early July with weekend rounds of 64-63. Two weeks later, 15-year-old John Augenstein, of Owensboro, made a surprising run to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur in his first-ever appearance. Talley has now joined that list.
But her road to Sunday’s 36-hole final won’t be easy. Next up, she faces Lee, her former U.S. Junior Ryder Cup and Junior Solheim Cup teammate and the runner-up at last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior. The two know each other well from junior golf, but have never faced each other in match play.
With Lee about to start her freshman year at UCLA, it will be a classic SEC/Pac-12 matchup.
Talley wore her Alabama cap on Friday and her Crimson Tide golf bag is adorned with accoutrements, including souvenirs from a college event in New Orleans this past year and a MM sticker to remember Mal Moore, the former Alabama athletic director who died in March from pulmonary problems. She also has two ribbons, one for ovarian cancer for Auburn women’s coach Kim Evans, who was diagnosed in the spring, and another for breast cancer.
“I have all kinds of stuff on my bag,” said Talley.
And this week, the items in it have carried her into the Women’s Amateur final four.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.