As nicknames go, Emilie Burger’s is meant more to inspire teammates than intimidate opponents.
She’s called Grandma, and with good reason.
Burger earned the moniker as the lone senior in the Georgia women’s golf team’s lineup, and she has taken seriously the role of mentoring her teammates.
With a first-year head coach in Josh Brewer and an assistant coach position left open after Lindsay Hulwick was hired in Augusta to lead the University of Denver program, Burger help has been pivotal to the team’s success as it heads into the Southeastern Conference championship Friday through Sunday at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Ala.
“Especially after Coach Hulwick moved to Denver, Burger has stepped in and taken up that extra responsibility on the road and on the course,” said Georgia freshman Kailey Walsh. “She’s become a great leader.”
Burger, who has played in every event and leads the team in stroke average at 73.08, has won twice this season — first at the Mason Rudolph Championships in September at Vanderbilt and at the Bryan National Collegiate less than three weeks ago in Brown Summit, N.C. And as a three-year All-American, she has plenty of experience to pass down.
“She’s been everywhere, and so it’s been good for her to work with all the freshman,” Brewer said. “She’s just having a fun time, not worrying about herself and just enjoying seeing these youngsters have that joy in their eyes. It’s made her go back a couple years even.”
While she said she enjoys the new role, Burger also said she knows she’s in the twilight of her own college career. Between the SEC championships and a possible NCAA regional and national championship berths, she has at most 10 rounds left.
“It’s very special, and I’ve told the other girls that this has been my favorite year so far,” Burger said. “And even having the coaching changes, it’s worked out very well. But coming up to the last few tournament, it’s kind of scary because I don’t really want to go out into the big world yet. But we’ve got such a great team, and Josh’s done such a great job with all of us that I’m just happy to be a part of this team this year.”
The team’s youth — the Bulldogs’ next four most-used golfers include freshmen Walsh and Manuela Carbajo Re’ and sophomores Rocio Sanchez Lobato and Collins Bradshaw — also has its upsides.
“It’s nice because you have freshmen and sophomores who don’t realize the history and the struggles of the past couple years for the program,” Brewer said. “All they know is the success we’ve had this year, so we’ll just continue to ride their momentum.”
As the Bulldogs look to win their first SEC title since 2007, they’ll likely need to play inspired golf. No. 19 Georgia will be in a field Brewer said is likely to be tougher than any NCAA regional draw they could receive and more like the one they’ll play host to next month at the NCAA championships as the SEC features five other top-25 teams — No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Florida, No. 7 Arkansas, No. 10 Vanderbilt and No. 22 Texas A&M.
“I didn’t come from maybe the strongest conference, but you could argue the SEC and Pac-12 are about the same,” said Brewer, who was previously an assistant at Southern Cal. “But I do think the SEC is a bit deeper than the Pac-12, so you’ve got three or four extra teams that have a chance if they get hot. And we’re chasing the defending national champions, Alabama, and trying to knock them off their throne. And we’ve beaten them this year, so we know we can do it. We just need to be consistent throughout the week.”
Burger said she has kept her advice simple this week: Relax.
“One thing I’ve told them is to just treat this like a regular tournament,” Burger said. “For me personally, I’ve tried to put too much pressure on myself instead of treating it like a regular tournament, so that’s what I’ve been telling them. Don’t put pressure on yourself and just out there and enjoy yourself.”