Maybe there weren’t any questions that Emma Talley — Princeton native and first-ever woman to play in the Irvin Cobb Championships at Paxton Park of Paducah — belonged on the men’s tee box.
If there were, however, they were swiftly silenced, as the former LPGA Rookie of the Year (2018) and University of Alabama Crimson Tide star fired a 1-over 72 on Saturday, to keep herself in contention for a strong finish.
Then, she delivered on that strong start, and at the end of Sunday afternoon, she picked up her ball out of the No. 18 cup, turned, and blew a kiss to the large gallery who had so fervently followed her last 36 holes of golf.
Her complete scorecard: four bogeys, one eagle and two birdies in total for a two-day 72-70=142.
It was good enough to be tied for the ninth-best professional score, and forged her in a tie for 17th on the leaderboard along the likes of Chris Erwin (2017 Cobb amateur champion), Nick Newcomb (2018 Cobb professional champion), Mike Vance and Kevin Wassmer.
“My score should’ve been a lot better (Sunday),” she said. “Because I played really, really well, but could not get a putt to drop. I hit the ball really solid, and I was really happy with my game today. There are a few things that I want to work on, but for the majority of the day, I was really impressed with how my practices paid off. I’m just looking forward to playing on the (LPGA) Tour again, and I’m so thankful that I got to play in this for multiple reasons. One, getting those nerves out.
“Today, I felt so much better, and more like myself.”
Talley opened her groundbreaking performance by parring eight-straight holes before a tough bogey on No. 9, then started a string of pars again until No. 15 — where she chipped in for eagle and brought her large gallery to a roar.
Bogeys on No. 17 and No. 18 weren’t what she was looking for, but after 18 holes — and some admitted nerves — it was a round worth remembering.
“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure going into it,” she said. “I was just really excited to break the boundary, and getting to play with guys is amazing. And I hadn’t played a competitive round of golf since February. So, I didn’t think I was going to be nervous. I came out pretty pumped and excited.
“And then, on the first hole, it was like a rush of stress and anxiety, and I had that for about 12 holes. I was very nervous. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt that nervous. But my game was really good. Even though my score didn’t show it, I was nervous for 12 holes. I’m excited for (Sunday). I feel like I can maybe play my game and shoot under par. Today was just getting the nerves off.”
Women watchingAfter a strong Saturday that had Talley in contention, her Sunday gallery had a few extra curious eyes watching her game. Every swing she took. Every putt she aligned.
And among the crowd of the typical friends and family were a handful of young and talented women in their own right, oh-so-curious about the history being carved with each step Talley took.
St. Mary’s Margaret Butts, bound for Centre College this fall and the defending First Region champion, loved the way Talley stayed composed — and, understandably, she found it “cool” that Talley, also of First Region fame, changed the game.
“There are a lot of men that get a lot of attention that are from around here, but there’s not that many women,” Butts said. “So it’s really cool to have someone to look up to, because we know that she’s started in the same place we did. It’s not like she had to do something crazy. She just worked hard, and she sets a really good example for everybody. That it doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you played, or who you are…as long as you work hard, you can get where you want to be.”
Interestingly enough, Butts won her First Region title at Paxton Park in a close bout with former McCracken County star and Bellarmine-bound Jessica Stephens (who was also in the gallery, watching Talley).
So is Butts playing in the Cobb, say in five or six years?
Two years ago, this isn’t even a question. Women had never played in the Cobb.
But that all changed this past weekend in Paducah.
“I actually think it would be really cool if they could get some women coming back,” Butts said. “I won my regional title here, so I just think something like that would be really cool to do one day. To get to come back here and do it again, you don’t usually get the opportunity to come back and play these same courses competitively.
“Yeah, that would be really cool one day.”
Ballard Memorial senior Autumn Dowdy, a state-tournament hopeful this year, was carting around Boaz sensation Madison Glisson (Class of 2026) as part of the gallery, too, and both were taken with Talley’s approach.
“She’s teeing off from the men’s, and she’s doing so good off of them,” Glisson said.
“I think it’s crazy that somebody from the little town of Princeton can go to the LPGA tour and play,” added Dowdy. “It’s just crazy to think about. She’s someone I can look up to and say, ‘I want to play like she does. I want to get where she’s at.’ Just a goal to set, so you can strive for.”
Talley took notice of the added gallery on Sunday, and had a message for any and all young women looking to play golf at the next level.
“I’m just so thankful that the game has grown,” she said. “They have each other to play against, obviously, but there are a lot of good players coming out of this area, and I just think it’s great. Period. It’s awesome that they’re playing golf, and my dad always used to tell me, ‘Let golf get you to where you want to go.’ I just hope that they all get to play golf professionally, at college or succeed at the high school level. It’s great, and I hope this just inspires them that they can break boundaries…because this was definitely a boundary that was broken. Very cool experience.”
Emma Talley’s Scorecard
Hole No. (to par)
1 (4) 2 (4) 3 (4) 4 (4) 5 (3) 6 (4) 7 (4) 8 (3) 9 (5) Total (35)
Day 1 4 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 3 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 3 (E) 6 (+1) 36
Day 2 4 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 5 (+1) 2 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 3 (E) 5 (E) 35
10 (4) 11 (4) 12 (4) 13 (3) 14 (4) 15 (5) 16 (4) 17 (3) 18 (5) Total (36)
Day 1 4 (+1) 4 (+1) 4 (+1) 3 (+1) 4 (+1) 3 (-1) 4 (-1) 4 (E) 6 (+1) 36
Day 2 4 (E) 4 (E) 4 (E) 3 (E) 4 (E) 4 (-1) 4 (-1) 3 (-1) 5 (-1) 35