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Denise Maloof | | May 25, 2015

Finishing touch

DI Women's Golf: Emma Talley wins big

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After Alabama junior Emma Talley finished her fourth round of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship with a three-stroke lead for the individual title, head coach Mic Potter identified Talley’s parents, Dan and Jennifer, from a distance as they waited for the rest of the 15-team field to finish Monday’s round.

Her mom stood stoic as her daughter met media then group-hugged her Crimson Tide teammates.

“Her dad’s probably pacing nervously somewhere,” Potter said in a conspiratorial near-whisper.

If Dan Talley indeed was pacing, his daughter was not.

Talley ultimately won her first NCAA title by one stroke against Arkansas junior Gaby Lopez and Duke freshman sensation Leona Maguire, carding a three-under-par total of 285. Lopez and Maguire each shot a two-under par 286.

The trio were the only players to complete the four-round individual portion of the tournament under par at a tough Concession Golf Club. Baylor’s Dylan Kim finished fourth with an even-par 288.

Talley proved unflappable during a bogey-free final round of one-over-par 73 on Monday. Alabama didn’t make the eight-team cut to advance to Tuesday’s first round of match play for the team title, but the junior from Princeton, Kentucky, gave her coaches and teammates a swell consolation prize. Already the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, she is the first individual NCAA champion Potter has coached during his 10 years at Alabama.

And that unflappability proved crucial on her finishing hole, the par-four No. 9, as officials blew the horn for a weather delay at 4:43 p.m. It came just before she could complete her final shot of the day, a possible birdie putt, and Talley rolled with the delay even if she couldn’t roll her putt.

"I just knew everybody else was upset so I just tried to get off the green as quick as possible,” she said. “I didn’t want to hear a bunch of negativity. So I just wanted to keep a positive spirit. I knew I had to finish it.”

Talley spent the 52-minute delay in the Concession clubhouse, mostly avoiding The Golf Channel’s live coverage.

“Sat there,” she said. “I tried to keep my composure and I didn’t watch the TV very often, tried not to watch that. I did find out what the scores are. I knew I had to make that putt.”

That putt actually capped a gutsy series of shots on No. 9. Already two-under with the lead, Talley wanted an exclamation point. Per Potter, she had missed birdie opportunities on Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8, accepting pars on five consecutive holes before teeing off on No. 9.

Once she did, she found the fairway bunker rather than turf.

“She just felt like she wanted to get a cushion,” Potter said. “Obviously everybody wants to birdie this hole, but she really wanted to birdie this hole, and drove it a little left. She usually cuts the ball off the tee a little bit, but for some reason she keeps it left here. We saw it bounce, didn’t know if it got in the bunker.

“So I’m imagining her standing in the bunker with the ball out, or it up against the lip or something. It ended up right in the bottom of it, perfectly flat lie, good yardage. The only question was choosing the right club.”

“I had 148 [yards to the green] and I hit 7-iron,” Talley said. “Had a little wind against us. Had a little adrenaline rush, too. I was going to club-up but decided not to at the very last second.”

The result was picturesque -- a landing five-to-six feet from the hole.

“Just perfect,” Potter said. “I told her I’m really glad I didn’t have to hit that shot.”

He sort of had during this past Thursday’s practice round, when Talley had inquired about his philosophy of fairway bunker play and Potter explained.

“Ball back in the stance a little bit,” he recalled.

Luckily so for Talley, who twice applied the advice on Monday, once on the epic shot at No. 9 and earlier at No. 15 on her front nine.

“So, kudos to Mic,” Talley said.

Potter refused any credit.

“She likes confirmation,” he said. “She doesn’t make many mistakes or do many things wrong. I can’t recall seeing her practicing a fairway bunker shot. Now she practices a lot so I may have missed it. She works on her golf swing in the right way and that applies to that shot. If you’re a good ball striker, you’re a good ball striker.”

Talley didn’t have the opportunity to drain her final birdie putt until after the 52-minute weather delay. Even then, her entourage singled out the set-up shot from the No. 9 fairway bunker as the play of the day. 

“This one, I told her, may be one of the best shots -- I’ve coached for 33 years -- at a critical time that I’ve ever seen,” Potter said.

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