Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletic Communications
In October, the Wake Forest women's golf team gathered for a meeting. Athletic Director John Currie joined the room, unsure of the topic.
Head coach Kim Lewellen cut the uncertainty once she asked Emilia Migliaccio
if the graduate student had anything she's like to share with the team.
Migliaccio, who won five times as a collegian before she graduated and joined the Golf Channel last spring, announced to the team she would use her extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic to rejoin the Demon Deacons in the fall.
The room erupted in celebration for the vaunted Demon Deacon's return.
“Every time I see them [the coaches],” Migliaccio said, “I’m like I cannot wait for next semester. It’s something I’m really excited about and I’m happy I rediscovered.”
That journey back seemed improbable at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. Following a playoff loss at the Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship and playing through the SEC and NCAA Championships, Migliaccio felt burned out and shared on Golf Channel that she had no intentions of turning professional.
“I had enjoyed every bit of college golf and was ready to move on,” Migliaccio said. “My coach had talked with me using my extra year of eligibility and when I told her my grad program is two years, give me some time to figure out what I want to do, and I really want to explore this side.”
Emilia Migliaccio will return to competitive golf at the ANWA
After working as a reporter and on-air talent for Golf Channel over the summer, Migliaccio slowed down her schedule. In June, she didn't practice for two weeks ahead of the Arnold Palmer Cup, then played two months later at the U.S. Women's Amateur in August. Following the lighter competitive workload, she went to the Wake Forest campus to begin her master's degree in communications. Her lighter golf schedule helped her understand how much golf meant to her.
“Over the summer,” Migliaccio said, “I feel like I just really rediscovered my love for golf. When you play it at a tense level for so long, your love for your sport or whatever you do can be overshadowed a little bit.”
She still honored her wish to explore other aspects of her life during the fall 2021 semester. Migliaccio served as a teacher’s aide, aptly teaching public speaking following her work as a reporter over the summer, and dived deeply into journal articles. She began her studies with a research proposal on the intertwinement of athlete burnout, motivation, and coach communication.
An emphasis point was in self-determination theory. After explaining the concept in-depth, the 22-year-old distilled it down as if Migliaccio explained it to the students she TA’d for. Athletes, her readings noted, are intrinsically (internally) and extrinsically (externally) motivated. Intrinsics love the challenges in front of them and find it rewarding to overcome them. Extrinsics feel a need to prove themselves and derive their worth from their success.
"That was eye-opening for me [understanding intrinsic/extrinsic motivation] because it sort of made sense,” Migliaccio said. “I could feel that I was doing that if I didn't have a good round, I was pretty hard on myself. If I had a great round, I was so happy and felt on top of the world. It was really nice to be able to read that and reflect in my own game.”
She now drops such cliché lines as understanding that everyone has bad days, and taking them with the good ones. Her matured perspective also evolved with her time covering golf. The professionals Migliaccio reported on for Golf Channel highlighted an emphasis on course management. Her favorite moment was covering the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, where she interviewed the very coaches who didn't initially recognize her in a purple jacket.
“It was really cool,” Migliaccio explained, “It was also funny because I interviewed my coach and friends and having to pretend I don’t know them and act like it was a very official interview was very funny.”
Amongst all of that, she still practiced for about two hours a day at Wake Forest. As an employee in the athletic department, she had access to the facilities, but with a far more toned down schedule than than the six-hour grind she was accustomed to as an undergraduate.
But her efforts from her experiences and lessons from her master's work gave her the time to explore the other side of a student-athlete she told the Wake Forest coaching staff she needed. That journey led her to discover that she still loved golf and wanted to use her Covid-19 granted extension to return.
“Taking that break from competitive golf was a helpful reminder telling me that you really love this sport,” Migliaccio said. “Being a teacher's assistant is super nice. I'd definitely rather travel around the country and play a bunch of great golf courses.”
That return doesn't include reconsidering the possibility of turning professional. While mentally, the 16-time amateur winner's wrestled with that possibility as she works on adjusting her club path from being too far to the right and overdrawing it, she reminds herself that perspective comes from wearing rosy colored lenses at the thought.
“You don’t really remember the difficulty,” Migliaccio said, “The grind of every day. You don't recall getting on the golf course and shooting three over, and you're like, ok, I’m going to stick with what I’m doing right now.”
Dreams that once involved professionally playing now shift to funneling her love of the game in another direction. Instead of seeing herself hoisting trophies, she wants to be asking the winner's about their success and down the road, being on the other side of the podium at Augusta National.
“Just the things that Augusta National has done for women, these recent years and putting on ANWA and having such an incredible tournament, I would love to be able to do that and to try to do what I can as a reporter to elevate the young women, the young girls playing, and sort of elevate the tournament.
"Maybe we can manifest that."