By Ian Thompson

Special to The Tuscaloosa News

Former Alabama standout Emma Talley came to the final hole of a grueling 36 holes of Sectional qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open on Monday at Dunwoody Country Club in Atlanta not sure where she stood in relation to qualifying. She made birdie and found out it had got her into a three-person playoff for the fourth and final qualifying spot.

Rounds of 73 and 69 had left her tied with two other players at two-under-par.

“I did not play well in the first round; it was rough going,” Talley said. “I was really mad actually as I had been playing so well and practiced so hard. It got some grit under my belt and I was determined to do much better in the second round.”

That she did, but her job was not done.

“I kept fighting all day and found out my scores were good enough for a playoff,” she said. “Something I’ve been working on a lot is improving my pitching. The first playoff hole (a par 5), I laid up my second shot to 55 yards, which is a favorite distance of mine. I knew it was time to deliver and hit it close.”

That she did, hitting her approach five t from the hole.

“The other girls missed their (birdie) putts. 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.

“I love Shoal Creek. I’ve made so many wonderful friends there. I can’t wait for all the girls (in the championship) to see Shoal Creek, my piece of heaven on earth.”

Talley is a member of Shoal Creek, located near Birmingham, and is sure to have a huge following. She is part of the club’s “Tour Hopefuls” program where they offer club and course privileges to local players on major golf tours including the LPGA.

Talley estimated she had played “hundreds of rounds at Shoal Creek.”

“I’m very excited, confident and comfortable on the course,” she said. “I think the entire town of Princeton (Kentucky, her hometown) will be there cheering me on, plus so many of my Birmingham and Tuscaloosa friends and lots of Shoal Creek members.”

Until recently, Talley was based in Birmingham. She is in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour and already has two top-10 finishes on her resume: at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. She is 44th on the money list with earnings approaching $120,000 in eight events. Thus, she is well on her way to retaining her card for next year.

Her amateur and collegiate careers have been well chronicled, but it bears repeating that she won an NCAA individual national title in 2015 and the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur. And she has already played in a number of major championships courtesy of her outstanding amateur career.

She mentioned her swing coach Todd Trimble of the Golf Complex in Paducah, Ky., with whom she has been since she started playing golf 14 years ago, and coaches Mic Potter and Susan Rosenstiel, her golf coaches all four years at UA, with helping her become the player she is today.