In October of 2009 my eyes and heart were suddenly drawn to a 15-year-old girl from tiny Caldwell County, Ky. A tenth-grader at the time, an unsung Emma Talley had just won the Kentucky high school state golf title, shooting an even-par 144 over two days at the plush Bowling Green Country Club. Mind you, she had won the state title the year before as a ninth grader and – back in 2009 – her closest rival was five shots back after Emma carded a one-under 71 in the final round to win medalist honors with apparent ease.
Everybody whooped and hollered, of course, and they took her picture and clapped as she, ever humble, accepted the trophy but later, as she walked to the car, she seemed worried and her dad asked her if something was wrong. She shook her head but then stopped walking, asking her dad to give her a moment.
Emma hustled back to the scorer’s tent and politely asked to see her scorecard. Sure enough, another player in the group had written that Emma had scored a “5” on the final hole. Emma knew that was wrong; she had taken six strokes. That is when the heartsick girl from tiny Princeton, Ky. (pop. 6,000) promptly disqualified herself for signing a wrong scorecard, per the rules of golf.
Well, it was a huge thing for the kid to do that. The runner-up, claiming one stroke would have made no difference, tried to give the trophy back, but Tally, who had signed the scorecard without checking it due to the jubilant moment, stood firm in her decision. She told the now-sullen gathering that it was a simple mistake but the rules are sacred, she said. Tally’s honesty and her actions were quickly praised on sports pages all across the Commonwealth and, in my case, on Chattanoogan.com where dozens of readers responded, as I recall.
Later she said that Monday at school it was a very awful day, everybody knowing her confession had cost her tiny school the title, but because she had won the state as a ninth-grader – this after playing on the Caldwell County varsity ever since the fifth grade – she was able to hold her head high. It was right about then the county judge summoned her to court immediately with her mom and dad!
Brock Thomas, the Chief Executive of Caldwell County, promptly gave the young golfer a huge hug and proclaimed, “What courage this young woman has! I couldn’t be more proud of her,” he boomed while Elbert Bennett, the town magistrate, decreed to one and all, “She is somebody every adult should look up to.”
What courage indeed. That was back in 2009 – has it really been four years? But I remembered it with a very warm glow Sunday night when I found out the same Emma Talley had just won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championship at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. That’s right … the same kid … but a much bigger trophy.
And it’s true … good things come to those who wait, who dare to do it right. Emma, who I remembered for once signed a wrong scorecard at age 15 that cost her the Kentucky state high school title, just won the biggest tournament for amateur female golfers in the world and, believe me, “every adult should look up to” Emma Talley.
Today Emma is a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama. An instant standout, she was a second-team All-American after a stunning freshman year with the Crimson Tide, taking Brooke Pancake’s spot in the line-up. By the time she finished high school, she had led Caldwell County to five state golf titles, winning individual honors in three of the last four years (and that includes the year she disqualified herself) but at Alabama she’s been sensational in her first year.
This week she thrilled the crowds in Charleston every day with her steady yet relentless play and they loved her Deep South accent, even quoting her in the newspaper when she praised an opponent’s putt with a soft, “Nice ‘un.”
The newspaper also reported that despite what the nautical charts showed for the day in Charleston harbor, “high tide” came at 4:22 Sunday afternoon when Emma watched China’s Yueer Cindy Feng miss a five-foot putt for par, which gave Talley a 2-and-1 victory in the 113th annual Women’s U.S. Amateur.
“I can’t tell you how I felt. It’s amazing to know I just won the biggest amateur tournament in the world. It’s a dream come true,” she told a reporter before facing a huge flock of admirers and raising her voice, “Thanks everybody. You were all awesome, and 'Roll Tide!'"
Later she would explain, “Football at Alabama is pretty much the biggest thing there is," she laughed, "I do know that I have friends who are Alabama football players who've been following me and watching on TV."
With the heat index in Charleston hovering at 110 yesterday, Talley’s father, Dan, carried her bag and it was obvious the former Western Kentucky football player (now an optometrist) was ecstatic over his daughter’s win. The Talley family is very close and their Christian faith was brought into focus this week when TV commentators noticed the Christian cross she draws on her golf tees.
Emma’s start at Alabama was a little rocky because she was homesick at first. “It was really hard, but once I got there and made all my friends, it was just a great transition,” she replied when reporters asked if she would turn pro, as Feng has indicated she will do immediately. “When I was struggling at first the team, the coaches, everybody was there for me. I do want to go pro, but right now, I love college too much.”
As it turned out, Talley was voted as the SEC Freshman of the Year, won the Ping/Arizona State tournament and maintained a 3.7 grade-point average. But nothing can compare with winning the Robert Cox Trophy yesterday. At 19 Emma Talley of rural Caldwell County, Kentucky, is the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.
But I am thankful that I can remember when she became a real “winner” on an October day four years ago. What a “nice ‘un!”