Emma Talley gave the Southeastern Conference something else to shout about.
The rising Alabama sophomore won the US Women’s Amateur on Sunday, beating Yueer Cindy Feng 2 and 1 at the Country Club of Charleston.
”Thanks everybody. You were all awesome and `Roll Tide,’ ” she told the crowd after closing out Feng on the next-to-last hole in the 36-hole final.
The 19-year-old Talley, from Princeton, Ky., had a ”Big Al” mascot headcover, the Crimson Tide’s script ”A” logo on her shoes and coach Mic Potter and teammate Stephanie Meadows in the gallery cheering her on throughout the match. Meadow carried a sign, ”Go Emma. Roll Tide,” throughout the 36 holes.
And Talley needed all the support she could get, squandering a three-up lead early in the afternoon round. But Talley took the lead for good with a birdie on the 10th hole, the 28th of the match, and didn’t let Feng back in front.
Talley finished the match when the 17-year-old Feng conceded par on the par-3 17th, then missed a 6-footer for a par that would have sent the match to the 36th hole. She’ll bring the winner’s medal and her new title back to campus this fall and hopefully make an impact on the school’s fanbase, which has its sights set on a third national football crown.
”Football at Alabama is pretty much the biggest thing there is,” Talley said. ”I do know that I have friends who are Alabama athletes who’ve been following me and watching on TV.”
Feng was vying to become the first Chinese-born player to win a USGA title.
Talley looked as if she had gained control of the match at the end of the morning 18 after birdies on the 17th and 18th holes left her 1 up at the lunch break. She extended that lead when play resumed with a birdie on the second hole and moved to 3 up on Feng’s bogey on the par-4 fourth.
Just as quickly as Talley moved in front, Feng caught up and tied things with birdies on the fifth and sixth holes and Talley’s botched chip on No. 7 that led to a bogey.
”The good thing about that was she was making shots,” Talley said. ”I hardly did anything wrong. I just had to keep playing my game because I knew it wasn’t over at all.”
Talley struggled with the putter early on. She three-putted four of her first 10 holes, yet only trailed by a hole.
Talley got things going on perhaps the club’s trickiest hole, the par-3 11th reverse redan where Sam Snead once made a 13 in a 1937 tournament. Talley put her tee shot in a bunker right of the green, then deftly chipped to about 10 feet and made the putt to square the match. Feng landed in a bunker on the par 3’s other side and needed two shots to make the green.
Feng regained the lead a hole later when her approach to the par-4, 12th finished about 2 feet from the flag for a birdie.
Another stellar bunker shot by Talley to about 6 feet past — she had her the blade of her wedge almost total parallel to the sand — led to another birdie on the 14th hole to again tie the match.
Talley closed the morning round with two straight birdies on the 17th and 18th shots for a 1 up lead at the break. She got inside of Feng’s 12-footer on the par-3 17th for a birdie that tied the match.
Talley struck a final time on the 18th, her approaching finishing about 5 feet past for a birdie.
Both Talley and Feng have spots in next year’s US Women’s Open at Pinehurst, NC, as long as they don’t turn pro. Feng, though, has signed up for LPGA Tour qualifying school with the hope of joining the tour.
Feng was disappointed in losing the match, but satisfied with her play this week. ”I didn’t think I would get this far,” she said. ”This is the biggest tournament in amateur golf. So to get into the finals, it’s really a big accomplishment.”
Talley hopes to play professionally one, too. Right now, she can’t wait to get back to school. ”I do want to go pro,” she said. ”But right now, I just love college too much.”