Alabama's Talley relishes challenge of major-like NCAAs

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BRADENTON, Fla. – It wasn’t just the power of positive thinking. Alabama junior Emma Talley stood on the first tee here at Concession Golf Club, looked around at all of the potential trouble, gushed, “I love this place!” – and actually meant it. 

Unusual, you see, because many players have been embarrassed by a course they view as excessively penal. Through two-and-a-half days there have been more rounds in the 90s than 60s. The cut line for match play will fall somewhere around 65 over par, which makes Talley’s even-par 216 total all the more impressive.

The harder the course, the better her mindset. And the more her opponents complain, the more she relishes the challenge.

“She’s a proven major player,” head coach Mic Potter said. 

As the rest of her Crimson Tide teammates sweat out whether they’ll survive the 54-hole cut for the top 15 teams, Talley is safely moving on to the final day of stroke play. She leads the individual race by two shots. 

“You have to think your way through every single shot,” said Talley, and if that sounds like the mantra at the majors, well, that’s because this women’s NCAA Championship looks and feels like one.

Controlling your golf ball. Managing your emotions. Avoiding big numbers. It all feels so familiar to Talley, who has already made six major appearances, including three in the toughest of them all, the U.S. Women’s Open. 

“People who have had those experiences can adapt better,” she said. “They know they can make bogey and not panic.”

Talley is the rare player who has yet to record a double or worse this week.

Some of that can be attributed to her improved putting. 

Earlier this spring, at Arizona State’s tournament, Talley switched to a modified left-hand-low grip. And then last week, before leaving for Florida, she received a helpful tip from former Alabama standout Trey Mullinax, the player who sank the clinching putt at last year’s NCAAs. 

The advice? Pick out a piece of grass in front of her mark and make sure the ball rolls directly over it. It’s worked this week, leading to 11 birdies through three rounds. 

“I was hitting the ball too well to shoot the scores I did,” she said. 

But the real key to Talley’s success so far has been her conservative, grind-it-out game plan. In her yardage book she drew boxes around where she wants to play to on the greens. Depending on that day’s hole locations, she has only five or six green-light opportunities.

“Patience,” she said.

Yep, sounds like a major.