Seven years ago, Emma Talley represented the United States at the Junior Ryder Cup in Scotland. The girls’ team was loaded that year with the likes of Alison Lee, Ginger Howard, Doris Chen and Kristen Park, who are all playing professionally.
The boy’s team? Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Denny McCarthy and Anthony Paolucci to name a few.
Talley even teamed up with Thomas that year to win a four-ball match for the USA. It marked the foundation of a friendship for two cream of the crop golfers from Kentucky. They both played college golf at Alabama and now keep close tabs on each other while competing around the world at the highest level.
“We were friends way before that, but we got to travel to Europe together and compete,” explained Talley about her friendship with some of the top PGA TOUR stars of today. “It’s weird because I walked into where I take lessons the other day and there is this big cardboard cut out of him (Justin) and I just laughed.”
Don’t let her fool you. Talley is a celebrity in her own right in the one-stoplight town of Princeton. There are multiple “Home of Emma Talley” signs around town and now she has a chance to grow her regional and national following when she plays on the LPGA in 2018.
The former USGA Women’s Amateur Champion and NCAA national champ overcame a roller coaster 2016 rookie campaign on the Symetra Tour to finish ninth on the money list in 2017. She still had to scratch and claw to earn her Tour card. She picked up her first career win in late June at the rain-shortened Island Resort Championship and then finished in a tie for second at the Symetra Tour Championship to leave no doubt.
Once the LPGA card was secured on October 9th at LPGA International, Talley got to work. Not on the range, but in her notepad. On the ride back to Birmingham, Alabama she began to jot down goals for the 2018 season on the LPGA. It’s something she does after each season.
“I usually list out goals that I want to accomplish in the next year, the next three years and the next five years,” said Talley. “Some things of course get delayed, but it is fun making goals and I like writing things down so I can try to check them off. I’m really excited for next year and I just want to be prepared and ready to go.”
One of the specific goals that Talley wrote down was to improve her par-5 scoring. Talley ranked in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour in both par-3 and par-4 scoring.
“I made a lot of pars and bogeys on par-5’s and if you look at the best players at any level, most of the time par-5’s are their friends and for me they haven’t been in my whole career,” explained Talley. “I knew that in college and I tried to figure it out and I still haven’t. I’m going to really work on that and figure out how to birdie par-5’s.”
Like every incoming rookie, Talley wants to improve her game in totality. However, what she won’t do is change.
“I feel like a lot of people go out there and think that they are on the LPGA so now they have to change everything to succeed, but I don’t see it that way,” said Talley. “I’ve just got to play my game and get better at what I can do.”
Part of that mentality likely stems from the fact that Talley is no stranger to the LPGA through her high ranking as an amateur and her stellar career at Alabama.
She’s made nine LPGA starts and has some Sunday experience including a T17 at the 2014 Ricoh Women’s British Open.
“I don’t think it (already playing quite a few LPGA events) gives me an advantage, but any experience on any level gives you more confidence,” said Talley. “Also, because my agent (JS Kang) is awesome, I’ve been able to play a lot of pro-am’s with the LPGA girls so whether I play well or not, I won’t be scared or star-struck.”
The calendar year 2017 was pretty special for Talley. In addition to earning her LPGA card, she also met her boyfriend, Patrick Smith, who caddied for Talley during her win in Harris. He was also a full-time looper on the LPGA for 2016 Symetra Tour graduate Laura Gonzalez Escallon.
Before the calendar flips to 2018 and the season-opener looms, Talley is headed to Smith’s New Zealand home for three weeks from late November through the third week of December. She’ll bring her clubs to keep fresh, but she’s more excited to explore a new country and spend time with Patrick and his family.
It’s going to be a pretty cool 2018 for Talley. Patrick won’t caddy for her – she’s currently in the process of finding a full-time caddy – but she’ll get to travel the world and he’ll be along for the ride too.
“I told Patrick that this could be the coolest year ever, traveling the world."
The fun is just starting for Talley.