BRADENTON, Fla. -- Moments after posting a one-over-par 73 on the alligator of a course that is the Concession Golf Club, Alabama junior Emma Talley sighed as she plunked down her bag.
The impetus? A lost stroke -- and bogey -- on No. 7.
“I was upset about that one,” she said with a grin. “I’m still concerned about it.”
She should be, but the second-round individual leader in the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship still topped the board as Sunday’s third round dragged into late afternoon, with other top players such as Southern California’s Annie Parks, Arkansas’ Gaby Lopez and top-ranked Duke freshman Leona Maguire yet to hit the heart of their rounds.
Talley's three-round total of 216 is even par after 54 holes. She has been in the mix for low-medalist honors from the start, shooting a 70 in Friday’s opening round -- good for a four-way tie for second -- then back-to-back 73s, the first of which vaulted her into the second-round lead.“I had two three-putts today,” Talley said of Sunday’s effort. “One, I three-putted for par so that was okay. And I’m happy. The course is really hard out there, the greens are firm and they’re going to just continue to get firmer as the day goes on.
“So I’m pleased with my 73. It’s just, I was three under at one point and got back to even par for the tournament, so that was kind of a bummer but I’m not going to complain. It could’ve been worse.”
“The best players in this field are at the top of the leaderboard,” Alabama head coach Mic Potter said. “Execution, having a plan, executing it, having been there before -- you can tell this course requires it.”
On Sunday, Alabama started on No. 10. Talley was even at the turn on No. 18 and dropped two-under after back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 and 3, the former a par four and the latter a par five. Then the bogey bug bit. She bogeyed three of the next four holes -- Nos. 4, 5 and 7 -- while picking up a par on the par-three No. 6. She parred her final two holes, both par fours, to salvage the respectable 73.
Familiarity, Talley says, is a good teacher.
“Every day I feel I know the hole better because I know the green better,” she said of Concession. “I know where the slopes are a little better. I know the reads a little better. I pretty much know what I’m going to hit off the tee now.
“But there are a couple holes where you get up to and you know exactly where to put the ball on the green because you’ve seen it for a couple of days, so that’s probably an advantage to everybody. Everybody’s getting used to how to play.”
Talley cited the two finishing holes for this tournament’s first three rounds -- No. 18 and No. 9, both par fours -- as examples.
“I’ve made par the past couple days,” she said of No. 18. “But today was a much easier par. I knew that there’s that backstop behind it so I knew I could hit it a little further than where the pin was and that it would come down when it did.”
She used the same strategy, and similar upslope behind the green, on No. 9, adding some last-minute body language.
"I knew that that hill was there and that’s why I was there [going] ‘sit, sit, sit,’ because I knew I had to be either left or short of that hill,” she said.
A junior from Princeton, Kentucky, Talley has serious credentials even without a possible NCAA individual title. The nation’s top-ranked recruit in 2012, she won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament and was a contributing member of the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup team. She also qualified for the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Open before she arrived in Tuscaloosa, making the cut in 2012. Last summer, she made the cut in the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2014 Ladies British Open, finishing as low amateur at Royal Birkdale, in a tie for 17th.
“They’re tournaments that require you make par and she knows how to do it,” Potter said. “She has great control of her golf ball. She flights it well. She hits it straight. She’s not afraid. Doesn’t hit any shots out of fear.
“And then she’s really worked hard on her putting the last few weeks and is holing out better from six feet, which has helped her a lot. And she’s hit some pretty good little chips from around the green, too.”
Thriftiness is crucial at Concession, a long, fast, undulating course that features treachery at every hole, including the alligator that appeared Saturday at No. 8.
This year’s new NCAA championship format, which cuts the 24-team field to 15 following Sunday’s third round, also cuts the individual-title field to nine players.
The remaining 15 teams and top nine individuals play another round Monday to decide the individual champion and to cut to eight teams for Tuesday’s semifinal match play. The latter will produce the two teams for Wednesday’s championship round of match play.
Thanks to her recent LPGA, Curtis Cup and top amateur experience, Talley is equipped -- as are her similarly decorated peers at Concession -- for tough courses and tough tournaments.
“She knows where to put it on the green, she has a plan and more importantly, she can execute it,” Potter said.
If she doesn’t, Talley can conjure last summer’s lessons learned alongside LPGA standouts Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel.
"They show you that eliminating big numbers is important and getting out of your mistakes and making those clutch putts,” Talley said. “I think that just learning from the best players in the world really helps and just the atmosphere they have showed me, through golf.”