Talley’s Small-Town Upbringing Leads to Big-Time Success

By Walker Polivka

Emma Talley is one of many up and coming players on the LPGA Tour. A former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, Talley has the makings of being a superstar in women’s golf. I had the chance to speak with Emma earlier this summer on a myriad of topics. Read on below to read about Emma’s career in golf, her magical U.S. Women’s Amateur win, her thoughts on the slow play debate, and what she does when she isn’t playing.

Q: Where are you originally from, and how did you first get interested in the game of golf? 

A: I’m from Princeton, Kentucky, which is a four-stoplight town out in the middle of nowhere. No one in my family played golf, but we lived on a golf course, and I just wanted to start playing. My dad got me some clubs and I fell in love with it. And I played every sport growing up, so golf was something I just wanted to try out. Thank goodness I gave it a shot, because I fell in love with the game and I’m so happy I did.

Q: What other sports did you play growing up?

A: I played basketball, softball, soccer, tennis, swim, track, everything. Anything you can think of I was playing or at least trying out.

Q: Do you think having played a variety of sports growing up helped you get better at golf?

A: I think it’s always good for kids to play other sports. I think it’s good from a team aspect, and I think it’s also great just for your athleticism. Basketball was the other sport I stuck with for the longest amount of time, and it was a great way for me to stay in shape and think about something other that golf. Kentucky has some really cold months during the offseason for golf, so basketball gave me something to do. I was glad to play other sports growing up for sure.

Talley playing golf at the University of Alabama. PhotoCredit: https://rolltide.com/sports/womens-golf/roster/emma-talley/3354

Q: You played college golf at the University of Alabama. What was it like playing in college against all of these other SEC schools? Obviously the SEC is known for its football programs, but what was it like playing Division One golf in the SEC?

A: It was great. Alabama was ranked Number One coming into my freshman year, so we were mostly playing the top-20 ranked teams every week, not always SEC teams. We played against Duke, USC, and many of the top programs. I also think it’s worth noting that Alabama is more than just a football school. For instance, the men’s golf team also had a lot of success and had won back-to-back team championships. Having grown up in a small town, it was really cool for me to experience that kind of atmosphere where so many sports were number one and winning national championships.

Q:What were some of your favorite tournaments while you were in college?

A: Every week was fun. When we went to the Darius Rucker Event in South Carolina, Darius Rucker had a concert, so that was obviously really cool. And obviously SEC Regionals and Nationals were always a great experience. There were always good golf courses with tough conditions and that taught me a lot. I’m really thankful for my whole experience with Alabama.

Q: What did you study while you were at Alabama?

A: I was a communications major. I made good grades because I worked hard. I wanted a degree. That was very important to me and was why I went all four years. I think when you get out here, you realize that you’re not going to golf forever and you need something to fall back on. For me, getting my degree and getting an education was really important to me and I’m glad I finished all four years of school.

Talley and her dad after winning the 2013 U. S. Women’s Amateur. Photo Credit: https://www.usga.org/articles/2013/08/emma-talley-wins-the-2013-us-womens-amateur-championship-21474858895.html

Q: You won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2013. Walk me through that week from the very start up through the final day. What’s it like playing in that big of an event, and how did you manage your expectations as you continued to progress all the way to the finals and then winning the title? What was that whole experience like?

A: I actually had a really rough summer that year. When I was going to that tournament, my mom said, “You know what, just try to talk to as many fans as you can and talk to as many people as you can while on the road.” I was talking to volunteers all week, and my dad was on my bag which helped. We had a great time together, and it was nine days in total that I was there with the practice rounds and the stroke play and the match play. And by the time you’re in that ninth day, as my mental coach tells me now, “You practice all your life to feel that nervous, so you might as well take advantage of it.” So honestly it was really cool. I played great golf the whole week, and I was just trying to kind of have fun and enjoy it. My dad and I had a great time. I think that helped with the nerves. The whole thing was a great experience. I wouldn’t say it changed my life, but it definitely helped my career. I got to play in four LPGA events because I won, so then by the time I got out here, I had already had so much experience on the LPGA because of that tournament. It gives you more experience, especially for the next level of play.

SYLVANIA, OH – JULY 16: Emma Talley watches her tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I at Highland Meadows Golf Club on July 16, 2015 in Sylvania, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Q: You started on the Symetra Tour in 2016. What are the major differences between the Symetra Tour versus the LPGA Tour?

A: It’s a lot. Every step, every level, you go up. The players get better and the competition gets harder and harder. Instead of just have two girls that are trying to win on Sunday on the Symetra Tour, you have 20 girls that can win on Sunday out here. Anything can happen out here, and the travel is more demanding as well. I haven’t been home in 12 weeks, this is my 12th week on the road. I haven’t played every week, but I haven’t been home in 12 weeks, so I think it’s the grind of it all. Obviously, there’s perks to every job, and I’m getting to play golf for a living, but I always tell people I wish they could see me at the laundromats and traveling out of my suitcase. It’s not quite all glamorous, but like I said, I’m getting to play golf for a living so it’s a huge blessing.

Q: You mentioned the traveling woes and the things that go along with that. How has traveling changed since COVID-19 first hit the scene last year? How has that impacted your ability getting to the tournaments and just your life on tour in general?

A: COVID changed a ton because all of a sudden we’re in bubbles every week and we’re not allowed to go anywhere—it’s just a different experience. We have had all these exemptions to fly to different countries. I know so many people have lost their jobs during COVID, so I am thankful that we’ve been able to keep playing safely and figure it out as we go. We were also unable to have fans for a long time. We all really missed that aspect and it has been so nice to have them back this year.

Talley during her rookie campaign. Photo Credit: https://www.lpga.com/news/2017/2017-talley-ready-for-coolest-year-ever

Q: You’ve been playing full time on the LPGA Tour since 2018, so 2018 would’ve been your rookie year. What was your rookie year like on tour?

A: It was great, I had a great season that year, and I learned a lot. The last three years have been the biggest learning curve I’ve had my whole career. I was learning the ins and outs of how to travel, and also split up with my long-term coach. I had been working with the same coach since I was nine years old and then we split a year and a half ago. We got back together in November and it has been really cool for me to see that the reasons I got here are the same ways that I can get to the next level.

Talley enroute to a runner-up finish at the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Photo Credit: https://www.lpga.com/news/2021/talleys-disappointment-tempered-by-positives

Q: You’ve had a decent stretch of play as of late. You tied for fourth at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, and you were runner up in the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Do you think your game is firing on all cylinders right now, or where do you rank the state of your game at the moment?

A: I’m playing great golf right now. I’ve worked really hard with my coach and my mental coach to get me back to playing the kind of golf I’ve played my whole career. Over the past two years, I basically had to relearn how to play golf. It’s been a great few weeks out here and hopefully that continues. I’m just going to try to stay in the present and keep working on all the things that my coaches have me focusing on.

Q: Are there any of your sponsors you’d like to give a shout out to?

A: Oh man, I have a lot! I have eight sponsors and I give them a lot of love. JenCap, Versant Health, Tactical Edge, Barbasol, ImageQuest, Callaway and Churchill Mortgage. I’m a very lucky girl. 

Q: What do you think the biggest strength in your golf game is?

A: This is going to sound really crazy, but I would say my iron game would be my strength. But out here because of how we travel every week and we play golf every week, it changes so fast. So, my irons are usually the best part of my game, but sometimes that can switch.

Q: Have you ever had a hole in one?

A: I have had 4 hole in ones, but not any recently.

Q: What’s a range session like for you when you get onto the range in practice? What all do you do during an average practice session?

A: It just depends. Every day that I get up there, we have cones and I target chase them. I put cones out at 30 to 90 yards, and I work on my distances and my wedges. I also have a Trackman so I’m looking at numbers. Sometimes I use my Trackman, sometimes I don’t. There are certain things I practice every day, and other things I am giving special attention to for days or weeks at a time. For instance, if I haven’t been putting well, I will practice putting a bit more. I probably spend the most time on putting greens, and then the irons, and then chipping.

Q: What sort of tips would you give to someone who’s trying to break 100 for the first time or somebody who is trying to break 80 for the first time? What would be your biggest piece of advice for them to do?

A: That’s a hard question because it’s different for everyone. If it’s a little kid, just keep going – keep practicing. If it’s an older amateur, I would say to go to the range and figure out a couple of swing thoughts that really make you hit the ball well. When you’re trying to break 80, you really just need to keep it on the fairways as much as possible and get it on the green.

Q: We’ve discussed the practice side of the game and we’ve discussed the mental side briefly—what do you do to stay physically in shape in order to prepare for tournaments?

A: In the offseason, I do a lot of working out. When I’m on the road it’s a bit harder, but I still try to get in at least three workouts a week. Working out to me is not only about gaining strength, it’s mainly about not getting hurt. I’ve been with my trainer since I was about 13 years old and he’s done a great job. He sets up an app and we work out. It has been a great situation for us to have that during COVID, especially because a lot of my workouts as of recent have just been in my room. So it’s great that, as far away as he is in Kentucky, I can work out without him and do the exercises every day.

A: Now circling back around to the mental side of the game, everyone, when they play, they kind of have their own “zone” I guess you want to call it, when they kind of shift into tournament mode and their mind is super focused on their game. How do you shift into your own personal zone, what does that feel like for you?

A: I think good golf helps a lot of that, but my mental coach and I have worked really hard on my game during the last eight months. I just hired him during COVID last year, and I’ve never really worked with someone on my mental game before. It has made a huge difference learning how to breathe and how to focus on the right things. I do a lot of meditation with him and I’ve learned how to release tension in my body. I know all that sounds pretty crazy, but as you know, there’s a lot of time between each shot, so you really have to learn how to calm your brain down and be focused on the right thing.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not playing? What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I read a lot of books and I actually watch some TV shows. My boyfriend is out here with me as a caddie for a different player. I’m very lucky that I have someone to hang out with and someone beside me to help me live out my dream. He works for another player so our schedules don’t always work out perfectly, but I get to go on dates like a normal person a lot of times.

Q: What kind of books do you like to read? What’s your go to genre?

A: I’m a novel girl – I can read any kind of novel. I like fiction books but I’m trying to start getting into non-fiction books as well.

Q: Who’s your favorite writer?

A: I don’t have a favorite. I try to switch it around and read different authors. My whole family enjoys reading so we kind of swap books with one another.

Q: What sort of music do you listen to?

A: I am the youngest of 4 kids in my family, so I listened to their favorite genres growing up. My brother that is closest in age to me is a writer in New York City, so he really made me enjoy all kinds of music growing up. I’ll listen to anything.

Q: Now we briefly touched on this at the start when you mentioned that you’ve played for a long time but of course it’s not going to last forever. Have you thought about what you’re going to do if you ever decide to step away from the game?

A: No, not really. I would love to be a mother one day so if God blesses me with children, maybe that would be my calling. I don’t know, I just have to see what happens in the next few years or whenever I decide to stop.

New LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. Photo Credit: https://golf.com/news/new-lpga-commissioner-mollie-marcoux-samaan-reveals-top-priorities/

Q: Let’s say that you were put in charge of the tour; let’s say you’re the commissioner. What changes would you make to the tour? What would you do if you were in charge?

A: Oh man, well in 2009 our tour was really going downhill and Mike Whan came in and really saved the LPGA. We actually just had a new commissioner on her first week last week (Mollie Marcoux Samaan), so it’ll be interesting to see what she does. I think the main thing would be to increase the purse size and number of tournaments. We’ve gone pretty global, which is great, but because of the pandemic, a lot of our global tournaments have been canceled because we can’t get to that country. I think things might have to change a little bit just because we don’t know when the world’s going to go back to normal. I would add a few more tournaments in the States because we’ve had to cancel so many outside of the U.S. We’ve had really great commissioners in the past and I’m very excited to see what this new commissioner does.

Q: Now we’re going to touch on a couple things about the game of golf today. What are your thoughts on the slow play controversy. Is it a major issue on tour?

A: I’m a very fast player, so I always think everyone can be faster. There’s not that many slow players, but there are a few that need to get faster and our tour is trying to make it better. It’s not as slow as it looks on TV. We don’t have as many cameras out here, so you’re having to watch us get prepared for each shot. It’s not as bad as what it seems, but you can certainly get slow players out here at times.

Q: Now on the PGA Tour, one of the biggest controversies is the whole distance debate. What do we do to the length of courses to make them tougher. We need to roll back the golf ball. We need to tinker with the equipment. Is the distance debate as major a topic on the LPGA Tour as well?

A: No, not at all. I tried to gain distance two years ago and lost my golf swing. So I will not do that again. But no, the courses are great and we do think obviously the setup between the guys and the girls is way different. We’re hitting five woods into some greens and they would never hit a five for a par four, so the way it’s set up is a lot different than the PGA. We could talk all day about that, but we want our scores to be fairly competitive with the PGA Tour. However, they’re never going to be if we continue to have to hit five woods and can’t reach the par 5’s in two. So that is definitely a controversial topic out here. The guys shoot -30 or -20 to win and our scores sometimes are only -12. And the reason is often because of the course setup. So I don’t know who’s right and I don’t know who’s wrong, but it’s definitely different. My caddie was on the PGA Tour for six years, and now he’s out here with me. We’ve been walking together for a couple months now and he knows the courses are just set up differently out here.

The global reach of the LPGA Tour represented by the Race to the CME Globe. Photo Credit:https://calgolfnews.com/lpga-launches-race-to-cme-globe/

Q: We talked about briefly about how the game of golf is very global. The LPGA Tour has done an excellent job of playing in other countries and having a very diverse field, but of course that’s taken a big hit due to COVID. What do you think is the easiest way to continue to grow the game, both at a local level and internationally?

A: I think it’s starting to get more popular. I see the game growing so much in my hometown, and I hope that’s also true elsewhere. Golf wasn’t really talked about growing up. It wasn’t a big sport for women, so I think it’s about getting more viewership and creating more opportunities in golf across the globe. We’re probably the most diverse corporate business in the world, so as you’ve said with diversity, I don’t think you could get any better than that. But I think it’s about growing the game and making it more available to everyone.

Photo Credit: https://www.modestgolf.com/events/the-isps-handa-world-invitational

Q: For several years now, the LPGA Tour and European Tour have teamed up for the ISPS Handa World Invitational tournament where both tours play the same venue the same week. Do you think the PGA Tour should try doing that with the LPGA Tour and have the American version of that?

A: Yeah, that’d be really fun. I wish they could do that. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it would be really cool.

Q: You’ve played a lot of different courses during your time on tour. What’s your favorite type of course to play?

A: I like every course. It’s all different throughout the year, we pretty much follow summer which is cool, but I like all kinds of golf really. I don’t really have a favorite. I like that we’re in Europe right now and playing links golf. We don’t get to play it very often except for coming over here, but obviously I grew up on more Bermuda-style courses.

Carnoustie Golf Links. Photo Credit: https://www.golfdigest.com/story/carnoustie-golf-links-course-tour

Q: Are there any venues you’d like to see added to the schedule?

A: Not necessarily. I think we’re pretty lucky. We’re playing Carnoustie this week and next year we’re playing Muirfield for the British Open. The scale has been pretty awesome, so I think they’ve done a really good job with that. 

Q: What are your goals for the rest of this current season, and what are your long-term goals?

A: Obviously every girl wants to win. I would love to win at some time during my career. I hope it’s this year, I hope I’ll win lots and lots of times, but I think for me, on an everyday basis, I just want to get better. I want to get better mentally, and I want to get better physically with my golf game. This year has meant a lot to me and I’ve learned so much, so I want to keep learning and practicing and getting better.

Q: What advice do you have for youth golfers that are just starting to play the game? What sort of advice would you give them?

A: Just have fun, the game is awesome. I’ve met so many people around the world now. Just have fun, enjoy it, and don’t get too mad at yourself. You’re going to mess up a lot, so you’ve got to keep going.

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