Emma Talley, 19, of Princeton, Ky., survived a tough match with Yueer Cindy Feng, 17, of Orlando, Fla., and captured a 2-and-1 victory at the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Charleston.
Talley and Feng will both receive exemptions into the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, provided they both remain amateurs. Talley also earned custody of the Robert Cox Trophy for the next year.
"To win the biggest tournament in the world, this is a dream come true," said an overwhelmed Talley, a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama.
Talley led, 1 up, after the morning 18, and led by as much as 3 up early in the afternoon round. Feng rallied to square the match on the 25th hole, but a birdie by Talley on the 28th hole gave her a lead that she would not relinquish, as she closed out Feng with a par on the 35th hole of the match.
Talley won the opening hole of the day with a 2-foot par putt after Feng two-putted for bogey from 4 feet. Talley had multiple opportunities to extend her lead over the next stretch of holes, with lip-out putts at the third and sixth holes that kept Feng close.
Feng was well aware of her early luck, saying, "I could have been 5 or 6 down going into the afternoon."
Talley carried the 1-up advantage until the par-4 seventh, where she was unable to convert her up-and-down for par. Feng escaped the trees along the right of the fairway and converted a 6-foot par putt to square the match.
"It wasn't even like I was missing 10-footers or something," said Talley of her putting struggles. "I was three‑putting like crazy."
Feng took her first lead at the par-4 eighth after Talley made her third three-putt bogey in a four-hole stretch. It was a seesaw battle for the next eight holes, with Talley bringing the match to all square at 11 and 14 and Feng winning the ensuing hole on both occasions.
"I don't know if it was nerves or adrenaline, or I don't know if it was all kicking in gear at the same time, but the match was up‑and‑down," said Talley, who was competing in her 10th USGA championship. "She hit great shots and I hit a couple good shots."
With the clubhouse in sight on the opening 18, Talley's putter picked up steam. She dropped a 6-footer for birdie at the par-3 17th to square the match. And after Feng's approach to the par-5 18th rolled off the back of the green, Talley placed hers within 6 feet and reclaimed a 1-up lead with a birdie going into the break between rounds.
After the lunch break, it looked like Talley would pull clear of Feng. A 15-foot birdie at the 20th hole extended her lead to 2 up, and it grew to 3 up when Feng three-putted for bogey at the 22nd.
But Feng came storming back, carding birdies at two of the next three holes and bringing the match to all square with 11 holes to play. Talley's confidence was not shaken, despite the sudden momentum shift.
"The good thing about that was that she was making the shots," said Talley, whose previous best Women's Amateur finish was a second-round loss in 2011. "I didn't really do much wrong to lose that lead."
Talley reclaimed a 1-up lead with a clutch 15-foot birdie putt at the 28th hole, which was punctuated by her fist pump and an enthusiastic round of applause. She extended the lead to 2 up with Feng missed a 7-foot par putt at the 30th hole.
But Feng would not go down without a fight. After sending her approach at the 31st down a steep embankment behind the green, a deft touch with a wedge left Feng with a 3-foot par attempt. Talley's birdie putt from the front edge of the green blew past the hole, and when she missed her comebacker for par, Feng cut the deficit to a tenuous one hole.
That one-hole lead was all Talley needed. After halving the next three holes with pars, Talley's tee shot at the par-3 35th found the front-right portion of the green, and Feng's nestled in the left rough just off the green. Feng misread her birdie try, sending the putt 6 feet right of the hole. Talley lagged her birdie putt for a conceded par, and Feng's missed par attempt gave Talley the victory.
"This morning, when she wasn't playing well, I played worse," said Feng, who will attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour as an amateur at this month's LPGA Qualifying School. "Then in the afternoon, when she did play well, I wasn't able to hold on as tight."
Talley's constant companion throughout the week was her father/caddie, Dan Talley. Daughter looked to father for support and a calming influence during those stressful closing holes.
"We always have a lot of fun together," said Talley of their strong bond. "He's a jokester, and when we kick it around, we share it with everybody, and I really appreciated it. He was great for me this week."
Both players struggled with scoring in Charleston's oppressive heat and humidity. Talley carded a score of three-over par, including seven bogeys (four consecutive at holes 5-8) and four birdies. Feng returned the equivalent of six-over par (with the usual match-play concession), including four birdies, eight bogeys and one double bogey.
The gallery that braved the day's steamy temperatures included Alabama Head Coach Mic Potter, who came in from Tuscaloosa to support Talley, as well as her teammate Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, who lost in the first round of match play. Meadow, carrying a Roll Tide banner, was joined by her fellow GB&I Curtis Cup competitors Leona and Lisa Maguire, of Ireland.
Emma Talley, Princeton, Ky. (140) def. Yueer Cindy Feng, Orlando, Fla. (140), 2 and 1