Kentucky golf prodigy turned national phenom Emma Talley will have an almost celestial advantage at this week's U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek, Ala.
Talley — the three-time Kentucky state high school champion, then U.S. Amateur champion, then NCAA champion and now LPGA rookie — has told multiple outlets that she'll be playing on her own little slice of heaven this weekend.
She's been a member at the Shoal Creek course since she graduated from the University of Alabama, and absolutely loves the place.
"It's like heaven on Earth to me," Talley told Golfweek. "I hope everyone loves it as much as I do."
While a member of the Alabama women's golf team, Talley often practiced at Shoal Creek, which is located just outside Birmingham, Ala. Upon graduation, the club offered Talley a membership. She estimated that she's played "hundreds of rounds at Shoal Creek."
The 24-year-old Talley's bubbly personality has made her a clubhouse favorite, so she's expected to have plenty of local support while she plays on a course that she knows so well. Martha Lang, a member of Shoal Creek and the U.S. Golf Association's Executive Committee, said the club was bustling with excitement when it found out Talley had qualified.
"You wouldn't believe the number of texts that were flying around here," Lang told GolfWeek.
Plus the course's proximity to both her former university and hometown of Princeton, Ky., will earn her a caravan of traveling fans.
"I'm very excited, confident and comfortable on the course," Talley told the Tuscaloosa News. "I think the entire town of Princeton will be there cheering me on, plus so many of my Birmingham (Ala.) and Tuscaloosa (Ala.) friends and lots of Shoal Creek members."
Talley qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in early May at the Dunwoody Country Club in Atlanta after she won a three-person playoff for the final qualifying spot. To win the playoff, Talley sank a putt for birdie on a par 5.
"I've never been that nervous in my life over a putt, but I made it," Talley said. "My first reaction was one of excitement. I've never smiled so big after making a putt. I knew, right then, that I was in the U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek."
As an LPGA rookie Talley has had two top-10 finishes, has missed only two cuts in 10 events and ranks 43rd on the total earnings list with $135,793 on the year. This will be Talley's fifth career U.S. Women's Open; she played in her other four as an amateur.
She is scheduled to tee off Thursday at 8:08 a.m. CDT and again on Friday at 1:48 p.m.
Talley is not the only young Kentucky golfer to rise to the highest level after playing golf for the Crimson Tide.
Justin Thomas, the current top-ranked golfer in the world, went from the Bluegrass to the Alabama links to international golf renown. Thomas hails from Goshen and graduated from St. Xavier. Naturally, Talley and Thomas are friends.
"He is like a big brother to me and I am so excited to keep watching his success," Talley told the LPGA in 2017.
Talley said recently that she draws inspiration from the 25-year-old Thomas. Seeing a Kentucky golfer who has had a similar career and has had so much success has been a motivating factor for Talley.
"Whenever I was growing up, Justin always did everything a year before me," Talley said. "So I was always like, 'Next year's my year.'"
Last year, Thomas captured five of his eight career PGA Tour wins, including a two-stroke margin of victory in the PGA Championship. He was named the PGA Tour's player of the year and was also named the FedEx Cup champion.
"It gives me a little fire," Talley said. "Because I want to do the same things."
In high school, Talley played international and national tournaments, but never failed to come motivated to the KHSAA state tournament.
She won the state individual championship three out of her four years of high school. Only one Kentucky girls' golfer has won more. Myra VanHoose (Blackwelder) won four in the early 1970s for Lafayette.
Talley would have won all four years, but in 2009 she realized she'd signed an incorrect scorecard, reported the error herself and was disqualified. Still, she was always dominant — all three of her state victories were nine-shot or more victory margins.
"I've worked really hard since I was little bitty," Talley told the Herald-Leader in 2011 after her final state championship. "I prayed about it, and God has really blessed me with a great career."
U.S. Women's Open
When: Thursday through Sunday
Where: Shoal Creek Country Club outside Birmingham, Ala.
Thursday's TV: Fox Sports 1 (3-8 p.m.)
Purse: $5 million ($900,000 to winner)
Defending champion: Sung Hyun Park