Suddenly, the professional stakes at the 2020 Banterra Bank/Jim Smith Contracting 84th Annual Irvin Cobb Championship seem a little bit higher.
First reported by WPSD Local 6 Sports Director Jeff Bidwell and later confirmed by Paxton Park golf professional Danny Mullen on Monday afternoon, Princeton’s Emma Talley is set to play in the prestigious annual tournament on July 18-19 at Paxton Park Golf Course in Paducah, where it’s been hosted since 1937.
The former Caldwell County three-time state champion, University of Alabama national champion and three-year LPGA professional is believed to be the first woman to ever enter the competitive field — which typically involves more than 120 local, regional and national amateurs and professionals for two rounds of scorching, talented golf.
“I haven’t been this excited about a tournament in a long time,” Talley told Bidwell on Monday. “Danny was so nice when I called him (Monday) to ask his permission to play in it. He was pumped. I’m really looking forward to being a part of the history of the Irvin Cobb. Obviously Paxton Park has been a huge source of my success throughout the years. I practiced out there as a kid all the time, so it’s a huge blessing and I’m honored that he’s going to let me play.”
Mullen said Talley has long been a target for the field, but as her career has grown, her summer calendar has been understandably cramped.
However, Talley isn’t returning to the LPGA circuit until July 20 in Sylvania, Ohio, for the Marathon Classic, as the coronavirus has curtailed all professional competition in the US since late February.
So the timing for this, then, seems perfect.
“We’ve been trying to get her for years,” Mullen noted. “We’re excited.”
Talley’s career speaks for itself. She’s one of five women to ever secure both an NCAA individual title (2015) and a US Women’s Amateur title (2013), and she was a four-time All-American for the Crimson Tide.
Her ninth-overall finish on the 2017 Symetra Tour was enough to garner her first go at LPGA status, where she soared in 2018 behind 21 made cuts in 27 events, recorded four top-10 finishes, and earned $421,287 — good for 52nd on the LPGA Tour.
While 2019 wasn’t as friendly — 11 made cuts in 23 events, and $117,236 in yearly earnings — she again earned LPGA status for 2020 by tying for sixth in the annual LPGA Q-Series.
The Irvin Cobb Championship has typically been kind to west Kentucky natives, especially in recent memory. In 2014 and 2017, Paducah native and former Middle Tennessee State star Rick Cochran III claimed the professional title. Former Marshall County and Murray State star Patrick Newcomb went back-to-back in 2015 and 2016, and his older brother, Nick (also a former Marshall County and Murray State star), won his first Cobb professional trophy in 2018.
In 2019, former Danville Admiral and University of Akron star J.B. Williams became the first non-west Kentucky native since Chas Narramore (Kington, Tennessee) won it all in 2013 to claim the $8,000 purse — shooting a 66 in Day 1 and a 68 in Day 2 for an 8-under 134.
“Those are guys are so good, (and) there are so many good players,” Talley told Bidwell on Monday. “Growing up as a kid, I always watched the scores in the newspaper after The Cobb was played, so I think it’s pretty cool they’re going to let me play against the guys.
“Obviously, I’m going to go in there trying to beat their butts, but I know what the scores can be and I know they can be very low. The main thing is just getting some competition. I haven’t played any competitive golf since February, so more or less it’s just getting out there and getting some competition.”