Tanco's meteoric rise lands 14-year-old at U.S. Women's Open

6/25/2008 - Golf

Only a few Latin American athletes can break the barrier of anonymity at age 14.

Such is the case of Argentinean Victoria "Vicky" Tanco, who will be in the field in this week's U.S. Women's Open.

Tanco is no longer a prospect. Her potential has already exploded on the international golf scene.

Tanco was a prodigy when she was 6 years old and played at the San Diego Golf Country Club in her hometown of Moreno, Argentina. She was just discovering her love for the sport, but her talent was evident.

Soon after, she started making a habit of winning tournaments.

Tanco won her first international tournament in Viña del Mar, Chile, when she was 8 while playing in the 9-10-year-old age bracket.

When Tanco was 10, she captured the first of three consecutive Doral Publix Jr. International Championships. She also won the Optimist International Championship in back-to-back years starting in 2004.

Tanco didn't stop there. She won her first national tournament in Argentina in the 15-year-old category when she was just 12.

"I started winning tournaments so I decided to train harder and dedicate myself even more," said Tanco, who is amazingly mature for her young age.

The competition in her homeland didn't match her skills. Tanco therefore decided to see how her game stacked up on the world stage. And her success continued.

But not only were the victories impressive, her behavior on the course was astonishing.

"Everyone tells me that I look older," admitted Tanco. "I mean, when I practice I really practice, and when I'm playing nothing disturbs my concentration."

Tanco has been offered a temporary scholarship by the David Leadbetter Academy that specializes in golf. And it looks as though the IMG-run school has liked what it's seen so far, because Tanco has been offered a permanent place at the Bradenton, Fla. facility.

Now it is up to the Tanco family to decide.

"They offered me to stay longer, but I have to talk to my parents about it. If it were [up to me,] I would stay longer," Tanco said, a testament to the fact that her parents still play a key role in her development as a golfer.

"My parents follow me wherever I go and they've always [had] my back. Today, I'm playing golf thanks to them," she said.

The Tanco family still has time to figure out what it will do in the future. But in the meantime, Tanco is getting the most out of her experience in Florida.

"When I got here, my swing was bad," said Tanco. "I still shot a good score, but my swing was bad. Today, I have a much more technical swing.

"I practice from 8:30 to 10:30. Then I hit the gym from 10:30 to 11:30. I have lunch, and I keep on practicing from 1 to 4."

Put sacrifice and unique talent together and the result is an impressive amateur career.

The most recent evidence of that came on June 9 at Loblolly Pines Golf Course in Hobe Sound, Fla. Tanco did what few people thought possible. She tied for medalist honors at a sectional qualifier to earn a trip to the U.S. Women's Open.

Tanco's two-day score of 145 equaled that of professional Amy Yang, with whom Tanco is paired for the early rounds of this week's major.

A week after her showing in the qualifier, Tanco won the Rolex Girls Junior Championship, where she defeated rivals such as 13-year-old American Alexis Thompson, who will also be in Minnesota this week.

"I come here with a lot of confidence," she said.

That's why Tanco introduced herself on Tuesday to Mexican superstar and world No. 1 player Lorena Ochoa while on the putting green at Interlachen Country Club, host site of the 63rd U.S. Women's Open. They talked for a while, after which Tanco played a practice round with another star on the LPGA Tour, Paula Creamer.

"Paula is not what you call a long hitter, so I surpassed her off the tee in a few opportunities. But she is very solid all around, and hits crisp irons. But I still think I am not that far away," Tanco said.

Much has been said about the likes of youngsters Michelle Wie and Thompson, but don't leave Tanco out of that equation.

"If it were [up to] me, I would play golf all day. It's a sport I like and a future career for me," Tanco said.

Before going on tour, however, there is another priority.

"I want to finish high school first, and then join the LPGA Tour," she added.

This week, as attention is paid to Ochoa's domination on the LPGA Tour this year and Annika Sorenstam's final U.S. Women's Open before retiring, Tanco will mingle with the big girls.

Just participating is not enough for her, though.

"I always play to win, and that's what I am going to try to do," Tanco said.