Virginia Beach, Va. – At 5-foot-8 with a lean, athletic physique, Tatiana Gammicchia looks like she still could line up for the 100-meter hurdles. As a teenager and into her early 20s, she competed in that event, along with the long and high jumps, while representing her native Russia when the republic was still part of the former Soviet Union.
Now, the 44-year-old has applied her athletic prowess to golf. She took up the game eight years ago, but she already has qualified for two U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs. After growing up in the in the city of Khabarovsk, which is located in the southeast corner of Russia just miles from the Chinese border and is covered with snow six months a year, Gammicchia now resides in Sarasota, Fla., where she can play year round.
After her rounds of 94-84 at Bayville Golf Club, Gammicchia talked to Hunki Yun in fluent but accented English about the unique way in which she discovered the existence of golf, her competitive spirit and her desire to play under the flag of her home country.
USGA: Growing up in the former Soviet Union, did you ever think you would be playing a golf championship in the United States?
Gammicchia: I never expected in my wildest dreams that I would be playing golf. When I was growing up, nobody knew what golf even was. The first time I learned about the game was when I was working for a Russian-American joint venture, a telecom company. They brought computers into my hometown for the first time.
And they had a golf computer game. So that’s how I learned what golf was. I played the computer game a little bit, choosing different clubs and hitting different directions.
When did you come to the United States?
About 15 years ago. My ex-husband, an American, was working in Russia at the time, and I was an interpreter for my second job – I was trying to make more money. He brought me to the U.S.
What is your work background?
I have a degree in electrical engineering from university in Russia. Here in the U.S., I became a software engineer and did database administration.
How did you get started playing golf – the real game, not on computers?
I started playing at age 36. I loved to play tennis and my ex-husband couldn’t run because of a bad accident, so he played golf. We worked during the week and on the weekends, he would play golf and I would play tennis, so we never saw each other. So one day he asked me: Would you like to learn golf so we can spend more time together?
He got me a set of golf clubs and I liked it. Being an athlete, I decided to see how far I could go because golf is such a wonderful game that you can play and compete in for a long time.
How did you find out about the USGA and its championships?
I wanted to compete on the highest level possible. Being an athlete, you just set yourself goals and keep moving up and up and find better competition.
What do you like best about golf?
Early in the morning when you get up and play early, you see the most beautiful sunrises, the dew on the ground and the beautiful trees. And everything is so quiet.
You get to meet lots of wonderful people and interact with them.
And of course, the competition.
What is the biggest challenge of golf?
You have to be a good athlete and you need to think really well on the course. You almost have to be a chess player.
What did you expect from your second Women's Mid-Amateur?
To tell the truth, I expected to play a lot better and I expected to get into match play.
You were an alternate this year. How did you find out that you got into the field?
I was in a tournament in Orlando. And after the second round on Wednesday I got a call. I had to drive to Sarasota two hours, pack everything, turn around and drive 14 hours to Virginia. We drove all night and got in at 1 p.m. Thursday to make it for the registration and practice round.
Will golf be more popular in Russia?
They’re saying right now that the golf courses are expensive and they’re trying to keep it very elite right now. There are only four or five golf courses in Moscow and a couple more in the European part of Russia. Still nobody knows about golf where I grew up.
Do you think there will be more government support now that golf is an Olympic sport in the 2016 Games?
Maybe, but it depends on the economy.
It’s one of my dreams to get on the Russian Olympic team for golf. I tried to write a letter three years to see if I could represent Russia in international competitions. They told me pretty much that I need to come to Russia and compete. I would love to do that, but it’s very expensive.
We’ll see what happens. There are a few years to go.
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.