CHARLESTON, S.C. – On Saturday, University of Alabama women’s golf coach Mic Potter spent the day getting text updates of Crimson Tide sophomore Emma Talley’s U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinal match from University of Southern California assistant coach Justin Silverstein.
Talley lost all of her 4-up lead against Alison Lee, but eventually prevailed, 1 up.
Once the final outcome text reached his phone, Potter and his wife packed up the car and made the nine-hour journey from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Charleston. They were scheduled to vacation next week in North Carolina, so this was a head start, and he certainly wasn’t going to miss potential history.
No University of Alabama golfer had ever reached a Women’s Amateur final. The only female Crimson Tide USGA champion to date had been 1975 graduate Martha Lang, the former USGA Women’s Committee chairman who claimed the 1988 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.
“It would be pretty bad if the golf coach wasn’t here,” said Potter after Talley, 19, defeated 17-year-old Yueer Cindy Feng, 2 and 1, in Sunday’s 36-hole final at the Country Club of Charleston.
Potter, who attended the first few days of the Women's Amateur before flying home on Wednesday, could envision this coming ever since he began recruiting the Princeton, Ky., native. Talley had a decorated junior career that included representing the USA on the Junior Ryder Cup and Junior Solheim Cup Teams in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“She knew how to win at a young age,” said Potter, who is entering his eighth season at Alabama. “She made the cut in the  U.S. [Women’s] Open before she came to school. She was always a good, solid player, but even a better person.
“One thing we look for a lot is how they fit in our program, and it doesn’t get any better than [Emma]. She came in and proved she had a work ethic academically and had the desire to do well. And I think that carries over athletically.”
One area that was lacking at the outset of Talley’s freshman season last fall was consistency; she was known to be a streaky player. Potter worked with her to even out the extreme highs and lows.
Her putting stroke improved dramatically after television golf analyst Dottie Pepper criticized her fundamentals during the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. For starters, Talley’s stance was too narrow and her head was tilted a lot, but she had never noticed it.
“If she had never made fun of me, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” said Talley. “Right after the [Women’s] Open, where I made the cut, I started working on my putting. It was a terrible putting stroke. I was doing something that nobody else in the world did. It was a big shock to me because I’m a small-town country girl and had never paid attention to it. And after that, [Coach Potter] said, ‘Let’s work on your putting,’ and it definitely helped this week.” Talley also recognized a weakness for shots around the green.
So once she arrived on campus last fall, Potter stressed short-game work.
That was no better illustrated than the bunker shot she produced on the par-4 14th hole in the morning 18 against Feng. With little green to work with, Talley perfectly executed the shot, stopping the ball six feet from the flag for what became a winning par.
“She didn’t have that [last year],” said Potter. “She’s worked really hard at all that stuff and how to look at a golf course and attack it, whether she’s using 3-wood, hybrid or driver off the tee. She wasn’t afraid to play first out there.”
Another Tide Title
Winning national titles is nothing new for Alabama sports fans. The football team has claimed three of the last four Bowl Championship Series titles. The softball team won the 2012 NCAA College World Series and the men’s golf team won this year’s NCAA title.
The women’s golf team has also made strides under Potter. It won the 2012 NCAA title before Talley arrived on campus last fall.
As for individuals, Talley’s victory in the Women’s Amateur was the second major championship for an Alabama golfer in the past 14 months. Last June, Stephanie Meadow, a senior from Northern Ireland who was eliminated in the first round on Wednesday, claimed the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship. Meadow also clinched the winning point for the 2012 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Team at Nairn to end a seven-Match drought against the USA.
Meadow was among the gallery on Sunday, along with her two Irish friends, twins Leona and Lisa Maguire.
The trio spent time in nearby Hilton Head, S.C., after being eliminated earlier in the week, and on Saturday night, they spent three hours making up a sign for Talley. The artwork was on display throughout the final match.
“Having Mic here and his wife, and Stephanie – they came all the way back just to see me today – that just means a lot [to me] and shows you how Alabama works,” said Talley. “She told me, ‘I’m not even artistic, but this is how much I love you’ ”
Said Meadow: “She’s the type of girl who likes stuff like that. I did it for her … and not for the cameras.”
Meadow and Talley will be rooming together when classes begin in a few weeks. They’ll move into their apartment in five days and the first thing on the agenda will be decorating.
Perhaps they’ll frame the sign and hang it on a wall. And If they’re looking for a coffee-table centerpiece that is sure to spark conversation, Talley’s U.S. Women’s Amateur trophy might make a good fit.
This could be the last time Yueer Cindy Feng ever competes in a USGA amateur championship. Feng has filed paperwork to enter LPGA Tour Qualifying School, which begins with first-stage qualifying at the end of August at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Feng has entered as an amateur, but if she earns her LPGA Tour playing privileges at the final stage, she would have to declare herself a professional.
Feng was non-committal on what her future plans were if she failed to advance out of either the Q-School’s first two stages.
My Old (Western) Kentucky Home
Talley is the second golfer from Kentucky to claim a USGA championship this year, joining U.S. Senior Open winner Kenny Perry, of Franklin. Talley doesn’t know Perry, but his regular caddie, Freddie Sanders, carried her bag at the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Opens. Sanders is from Paducah, where Talley goes to see her swing coach, Todd Trimble, at The Golf Complex.
“Freddie has taught me a lot about the game,” said Talley. “[Champions Tour winner] Russ Cochran is from Paducah, and me and Russ are really close. And a long time ago, he helped me out with a bunch of golf stuff – little tweaks. Russ is a great guy, and Kenny and Russ have always been, I guess, role models to me. I've always liked how they approach themselves and how they approach the game. They are normal people off the course but they are great golfers. I love how they lived in their hometown for a long time. It’s awesome.”
Odds and Ends
Talley might be the first Women’s Amateur champion from the University of Alabama, but Jerry Pate won the U.S. Amateur in 1974, two year before winning the U.S. Open … Current Alabama golfer Cory Whitsett, a member of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team, won the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur. That year, Alabama’s Michael Thompson was the U.S. Amateur runner-up to Colt Knost … Having a pro-Southeastern Conference gallery certainly was helpful for Talley. “She had a lot of support,” said Dan Talley, Emma’s father and caddie for the week. “All these SEC schools and fans … they have been saying we’re for Alabama this week. I know that helped her a lot.” ... Each of the finalists had their dads serving as caddies. Dan Talley and Delin Feng both pushed a cart throughout the championship.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.