As a sport, golf often forces players to make difficult decisions, and that was what 8-year-old Ryan Nana Tanke and his family faced last fall. But theirs was a different sort of dilemma.
A resident of Paris most of the year, Ryan had received a VIP ticket to the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National golf just south of his home city as a prize for winning a series of youth championships. But then the third-grader got on something of a hot streak as he attempted to qualify for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in the Boys 7-9 division. And after making it through the subregional round, all that stood between him and a trip to Augusta National was the regional championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Problem is, that competition was taking place the same September weekend of the Ryder Cup.
“We were not sure what to do,” said his father, Christian Nana Tanke, who handles infrastructure investments in Africa. “Ryan had worked very hard to earn that pass and really wanted to see the matches. But he also wanted to play in the finals of Drive, Chip and Putt, especially after getting to the regionals last year and just missing a chance to go to Augusta.”
“Money was an issue as well,” said Nana Tanke, whose wife, Caroline, is an accountant. “I am not a millionaire, and traveling from Paris to TPC Sawgrass and staying there for the regional was going to cost a lot of money.”
As the family debated what to do, Ryan’s coach, PGA Master Professional Warren Bottke, chimed in. Best known for teaching a young Brooks Koepka, he felt that Ryan had to make the trip to Florida.
“He is a special kid, and I have not seen anyone as good at that young an age, even Brooks,” Bottke said. “I also felt very confident that Ryan would make it to the finals. In fact, I told Christian and Ryan that I was 100 percent confident he would do so.”
In the end, that confidence carried the day. So Ryan, who says that he wants to be a professional golfer when he grows up, gave his Ryder Cup pass to his younger brother Chris and made his way to Florida for the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. And just as his coach had predicted, the youngster came out on top, winning the regional by six points and earning medalist honors in driving and putting.
“I have always liked driving and putting best, and I did well with those,” Ryan said. “And now, I am in Augusta.”
Winning the regional was the latest triumph for Ryan, who was born in New York, raised in Paris and speaks both French and English. He started playing golf at the age of 2 with plastic clubs his father had purchased for him. Eighteen months later, Ryan was working with a local golf coach.
“Ryan got good very quickly,” said his father, a French citizen whose parents came from the West Africa nation of Cameroon. “In fact, one of his coaches said he had never seen a player so young play so well. And he encouraged me to take Ryan to the States for training.”
“He is a special kid, and I have not seen anyone as good at that young an age, even Brooks. I also felt very confident that Ryan would make it to the finals. In fact, I told Christian and Ryan that I was 100 percent confident he would do so.”
- Warren Bottke, Ryan's coach
In time, that is exactly what Nana Tanke did, bringing his son to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to begin work with Bottke.
“I picked up Ryan as a student when he was 6 years old, and we have trained together the last three summers,” Bottke said. “His family comes to Florida for eight or nine weeks each summer, and we stay connected through email and texting at other times. He is a very good listener, a very hard worker and very smart.”
In addition to training with Bottke, Ryan plays out of the Paris Country Club, a nine-hole facility that also features a golf academy. He has entered some tournaments in the United States, such as the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships at Pinehurst, and done well in them, finishing tied for 20th and 12th in the individual portion of that event the past two years and winning the nine-hole team competition in 2018. Not long ago, he also played with French professional golfer and one-time European Ryder Cup team member Thomas Levet, who called him “an exceptional player” and expressed interest in having him work one day for the French National Golf Team.
In describing himself, Ryan says he is an 8-year-old who likes winning. And he makes it clear that he would like nothing more than winning here at Augusta.