Grillo dialed in at U.S. Junior

Emiliano Grillo talks on his cell phone prior to his round Tuesday at the 62nd U. S. Junior Amateur Championship.

Emiliano Grillo talks on his cell phone prior to his round Tuesday at the 62nd U. S. Junior Amateur Championship.

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BEDMINSTER, N.J. – The U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior may very well become an Argentine affair.

Though top-ranked Jordan Spieth and Alexis Thompson are clear favorites, Emiliano Grillo and Victoria Tanco are presenting themselves as forces to contend with when match play arrives on Wednesday.

Grillo was dejected after his 5-over 76 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying Tuesday, but coupled with his first-round 67, the Argentine tied for seventh, well inside the cutline.

Better yet, he’s perhaps the hottest player in the field.

Grillo won by four shots at last week’s Junior World Championships despite going 71-79 in his first two rounds. Playing Torrey Pines South – site of last year’s U.S. Open – Grillo roared back with rounds of 67-68 and took the title.

“I don’t feel any more pressure than usual,” Grillo said. “I want to win everywhere I go.”

The 16-year-old is being fueled this week by thoughts of last year’s U.S. Junior where he suffered a 5-and-4 trouncing from Cameron Peck in the quarterfinals. But more than that, Grillo hopes to break a troubling trend he’s noticed.

“Hopefully, this doesn’t go like my past few match-play tournaments,” he said. “It’s like I always lose in the first round.”

After earning co-medalist honors at the Polo Golf Junior Classic last year, Grillo was promptly defeated by Matt Ceravolo, 4 and 3, in the first round. A month later, Grillo suffered another first-round loss at the Argentine Amateur.

Though the loss came in his homeland, Grillo said that he feels no extra pressure to win for his country. Even with the parades and mania surrounding Angel Cabrera when he arrived back in Argentina following his Masters victory, golf for Grillo remains a solitary sport.

“I want to win for myself,” he said. “It’s cool if Argentina wins something, but I always want to win for me.”

Tanco echoes Grillo’s sentiments, but admitted a slight pride factor in representing Argentina. When asked whether a World Cup or professional major would be received better by her home country, she was quick to answer.

“Argentina loves soccer, so a World Cup,” she said.

The two players are indicative of the growing popularity of golf in Argentina, which is due in large part to the success of pros Cabrera, Andres Romero, and Champions Tour veteran Eduardo Romero.

“Kids see [them] playing good and want to be like them,” said Tanco.

That influence, however, isn’t completely pervasive. Tanco’s pro idols remain Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa, with whom she’s played.

Despite what Grillo and Tanco may say, their feelings toward bringing a U.S. Junior trophy back to Argentina could change if they were the ones doing it by week’s end.

No Latin-born player has won the U.S. Junior and just two have won the U.S. Girls’ Junior (Julieta Granada, Paraguay, 2004; Nicole Perrot, Chile, 2001).

Whether we’ll see history – or a Latin celebration – this week remains to be seen.

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