If there is such a thing as a “victory lap” in professional golf, it might very well be the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s (LPGA) CME Group Tour Championship held in Naples, Florida at the end of each season.
The field is limited to the top performers of the year who are given the opportunity to play for a purse of $3 million. And Princeton’s own Emma Talley was there last week putting the finishing touches on her third year as an LPGA player.
In her short time as a professional golfer, she has already experienced the highs (playing in Naples her first year on the tour) and the lows (missing out on this prestigious tournament last year).
In fact, when asked what had been the hardest thing about her time on the tour, she was quick to point to last year when she failed to qualify to keep her playing privileges for 2020. She earned $146,423 this year. She talked of that time by saying, “I had never gone through such a stretch of terrible golf in my life.”
Her amateur career backs up that statement. Talley was a multiple girls’ state champion, a four-time Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-America selection as a player for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and one of only five women to win both the NCAA Individual (2015) and the U. S. Women’s Amateur (2013) championships.
While still in college, she was low amateur at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Success has not a been stranger to Talley.
The poor 2019 season was made even more frustrating because in her rookie season she came bursting onto the scene, making cuts in 21 of 27 tournaments to finish 52nd on the money list. By her account, her 2019 season was awful, making only 11 cuts in 23 tournaments while slipping to 103rd on the money list.
This forced her to return to the tour’s qualifying school to try and secure 2020 playing privileges. Despite not being at the top of her game, she was able to qualify and keep her job as an LPGA player.
One of the reasons she says she struggled in 2019 was emotionally dealing with not winning. This is a common experience for new players. The reality is all of the players on the LPGA Tour are winners, with long histories of success at every level, and more often than not are dominant.
It can be difficult to accept that one is no longer the only great golfer in a tournament. Talley says she went into 2020 with a better understanding and acceptance of how hard it would be to win on the tour. The result was a bounce-back year with her keeping her playing privileges for next year and making it to the tour’s “victory lap.”
It was a year that left her looking forward to her first win. When asked about what she needs to be done to break through to the next level, her answer shows the confidence that comes from being a winner.
“My game is good enough to win out here,” she said. “I just have to get over some of those demons from last year.”
When you look at the statistics from the last tournament, they confirm her feelings. While not the longest driver of the golf ball on tour, averaging 247 yards, she’s becoming one of the more accurate.
Last week she had 56 drives and put 54 in the fairway. That is an unheard of 96%.
She finished the year ranked 24th in accuracy.
The two days when the wind wasn’t playing havoc with shots, she hit 33 of 36 greens in regulation.
That kind of play indicates she’s on her way to the top.
Talley has always been seen as a down-to-earth person who knows how to keep things in perspective.
Ask her about life on the tour, you will get a big smile when she tells you: “I still have to find time to do my laundry.”
While all of the travel might seem to hold some glamour for the average person, she claims its one of the more difficult things to contend with because of the unknown. If she’s in a tournament, she must play well enough to make the cut so she can play the weekend. Miss the cut, and it’s time to decide where she will spend the weekend.
Does she fly home or to the next tournament to get some extra practice? Either way, that means changing airline tickets, rental car and hotel reservations. Oh, and there’s still laundry to do before the next tournament, but now it has to be done on the road.
Has three years on the professional tour dealing with all the frustrations dampened her enthusiasm?
“Not at all,” she explains. “I love it. It’s my job now.”
Indeed, it’s her job. Emma Talley, from the small town of Princeton, Kentucky, is in the midst of making her presence known on the LPGA Tour. And she’s also making a name for herself as one of the nicest players on tour. Each tournament she makes sure to always thank any volunteer she comes in contact with and shows them that big Kentucky smile.
Given the chance, she will also look at them and jokingly say, “Roll Tide.”
Given her career success, supporters might also be inclined to think, “Roll Emma!”
Gid Pool is a Princeton native. He is the author of “Act Two & Beyond: Making The Rest of Your Life Spectacular” whose message has been featured on the Today Show and in the Wall Street Journal.