Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek grad Emilie Burger, a senior on the University of Georgia watches the ball during her follow through on media day at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens Tuesday.
ATHENS -- When Emilie Burger first showed up at Georgia four years ago, she called her expectations were "skewed."
"I came in and my expectations were lower, I just wanted to try to compete instead of step up to the next level," the Mill Creek graduate said. "I was able to adjust them after the first semester and I set higher goals for myself and I was able to achieve a lot of them so it's been good."
A lot, not all.
Every season, Burger watched one member of her team qualify and play for the NCAA national championship. The team never went. This year, she's the qualifier keeping the Georgia's streak alive, but she'll be playing her final rounds at her home course without her teammates. In the regionals, Georgia missed qualifying by two strokes.
"I was pretty disappointed. That has been my goal, all four years being here, was just to qualify as a team because we've never done it," Burger said of her time at Georgia. "I was, obviously, very disappointed, this has been my best year and I owe that a lot to my teammates and my coaches."
But she did qualify and Tuesday morning Burger will begin her final four rounds of amateur golf on a course she's played seemingly daily for the past four years.
"I guess it will be pressure off the course and, obviously, I want to do well on my home turf. I am just going to try to go out there and focus on one shot at a time and worry about the present moment," Burger said. "That has been my goal all four years was to play out here for the national championship the last four rounds of my college career."
To earn her spot, Burger shot a 2-under par 69 at the Stanford University Golf Course on the final day to finish 12-under for the tournament, finishing seventh overall. But her team falling short, grated at Burger following the round. First-year head coach Josh Brewer said it's now time to overcome that disappointment.
"Her and I just have to get refocused and we can still win a national title as an individual," Brewer said. "It's not the team title, but we still get a chance at a national title, which would be a pretty good way for her to end her college career."
And a fitting one.
Burger is a four-time All-American and never missed a tournament in her four years with the Bulldogs.
She was second team all-SEC as a freshman and sophomore and first team her junior year. Her first tournament win for Georgia came in her first season at Auburn. She finished eighth in the World University Golf Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic and has led Georgia in stroke average for the past two seasons.
Before Georgia, Burger began her legacy-setting at Mill Creek. Her team won back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009 and Burger won the individual title in 2008.
"Emilie is a worker. She can practice more and stay with it more than I think about anybody I know. I know when I first started coaching her I was concerned about her getting burned out," her high school coach Ben Hanes said. "She probably has the strongest work ethic in terms of golf that I have seen from a young player. She will just practice and practice and work. She still enjoys the game."
Her college coach echoes the high praise.
"She is, to me, what every Georgia women's golfer will be compared to," Brewer said. "She has made my life easy being a first-year head coach. I'll miss the heck out of her."
He'll see plenty of her this week. Brewer plans to work on different situations with her during the practice rounds and will be with her for most shots of the four rounds.
"I am going to try to stay out of her way. She'll see me all 72 holes instead of six or seven. I guess I'll take the blame if she doesn't play well," Brewer joked. "I think she'll be fine. She is getting ready to play professional golf, in a way, it's an amateur event, I get that, but it's her first step into being a professional on her own."
And she has some Bulldog precedent to follow. The University of Georgia Course hosts a Web.com PGA tour stop every year and the past three winners were all former Georgia golfers.
"Hopefully I can be the fourth and can continue the Bulldog streak," Burger said.
She plans to turn professional following the NCAA tournament, officially ending her college years. She's a long way from just wanting to play.
"I am feeling old. I am feeling so old," Burger said. "It flew by so fast. It's just amazing to see that it's gone. I enjoyed every minute of it."