AUGUSTA, Ga. – The edge was gone. Emilia Migliaccio recognized it immediately. She had reached the quarterfinals of the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst last summer and felt ... nothing.
Not adrenaline. Not joy. Not satisfaction.
“The hunger weren’t there,” said her mother, Ulrika.
Something transformational was afoot.
A senior at Wake Forest, Migliaccio was one of the top 10 amateurs in the world, rising as high as No. 3. She’d won an ACC title and earned a gold medal for the United States at the Pan-American Games. But burnout had begun to set in after a dozen years of competition, all at an elite level. The pro game no longer seemed appealing.
“The better she got, the more emotionally draining it became,” Ulrika said. “For most golfers, when the swing doesn’t go well, you just work on things – there’s never an ending. It’s pretty intense all the time. There’s never an off time. It’s hard for her to never think about her golf, and that can emotionally tarnish you in other areas of life.”
Ulrika could relate. In the early 1990s, she was an accomplished player at the University of Arizona, where she was a teammate of future LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam. She’d felt that same burden in the spring of ’94, while weighing whether or not to turn pro. She opted against it, wanting more for her life. “The game had gotten to me a little bit, too,” she said. “When I made the decision, it was like a burden was lifted off.” Ulrika went into finance, got her MBA from N.C. State and started a family.
Emilia, now 21, is forging her own path, too. A published novelist in 2018, she has had always had a passion for writing. In January, she told her parents that, despite her lofty ranking (now 15th) and decorated résumé, she wouldn’t turn pro after completing her undergraduate degree next month. She accepted an internship at the Golf Channel (working for this website, in fact) and will complete a two-year master’s program in communication.
“She was conflicted in her mind, and she hadn’t listened to herself as clearly as she needed to,” Ulrika said. “As time went on, it seemed like she has a lot of other qualities and skills, and her golf is always going to be her golf and she’ll enjoy that. But she didn’t know if she wanted to do that for the next 15 years. It’s always nice to have a choice, and she feels very content with her decision. We just want her to be happy.”
A clearer mind didn’t initially help Migliaccio unlock her best play. In 12 rounds this spring for Wake Forest, she carried an uncharacteristic 74.08 scoring average and only once finished among the top 20. But at least she felt unencumbered.
“It wasn’t about that I’m not playing well so I’m not turning professional,” she said. “I’m ready for something new. I’m ready for a new chapter.”
Just not quite yet.
Two years ago, Migliaccio missed the 36-hole cut at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and watched as her intensely driven teammate, top-ranked Jennifer Kupcho, won the inaugural edition. Migliaccio wanted to put on her own show this year, but she also tempered expectations. No longer stuffing her summer schedule full of professional and amateur events, she knew her world ranking would continue to slide and eventually drop outside the cutoff for this prestigious event.
“This may be our last rodeo,” Ulrika said, and so Emilia eschewed a local Augusta National caddie and had her mom on the bag for the first two rounds at Champions Retreat (where she sat four shots back after 36 holes) and again in the final round here at Augusta National.
Then something unusual happened Saturday.
Migliaccio birdied the difficult opening hole: “I was like, OK, let’s go.” Then the third hole. At firm and fast Augusta National, she carded five birdies in all to sign for a 70 and post 1-over – at the time, the leader in the clubhouse.
“That’s pretty cool,” she had said afterward.
But over the next hour, the leaders began to falter. Rose Zhang triple-bogeyed the 13th hole. Helen Fredgaard doubled the 15th. Tsubasa Kajitani took a 6 on the 17th. Four players bogeyed the last to miss the playoff. All of a sudden, Migliacico’s 217 total looked as though it might hold up – and may even be enough to win.
“I was kind of shocked,” she said, “because I didn’t think I would have a chance.”
Kajitani parred the final hole to match Migliaccio, which sent her scrambling to the tournament practice area to prepare for a playoff. After about an hourlong break, she hit 10 drivers on the range and rushed back to the 18th tee. On the first playoff hole, after finding the fairway, Migliaccio’s gripped-down 5-iron from 167 yards rode up the clubface and sailed wide right of the green, leaving a delicate pitch to the flag. She dumped it in the bunker and lost to the 17-year-old Kajitani.
“It’s hard to bogey and lose to a par,” she said. “If they birdie, it’s like, Well, I did everything I could. But I wanted to hit a better shot. It just didn’t work out.”
Did the close call at the ANWA alter her recent thinking?
Just the opposite. It confirmed it.
“I think I played so well because of my decision,” she said.
Watching a feet away, Ulrika beamed with pride.
“To listen to yourself, to listen to your inner strength and what you really, truly want to do versus listening to other people and what they’re telling you you should do, that’ll be the biggest thing I take away,” she said. “You have to listen to yourself.”