Other than a slight limp, there’s no sign of the birth defect that St. Croix Central sophomore Sally Vangsness has, and it certainly doesn’t show in her golf game.
This fall, Vangsness has blossomed into one of the premier golfers in the Middle Border Conference. With her third place finish in the conference tournament last week, Vangsness was able to earn first team All-MBC honors.
Vangsness was born with her left leg shorter than her right, and with three toes on her left foot. She has twice undergone major surgery in attempts to lengthen her left leg. The second surgery was in December, 2017. By the fall of 2018, her leg was not strong enough for her to walk long distances. The Central coaches received a medical clearance from the WIAA, allowing Vangsness to use a cart to transport her through her golf rounds last year. Walking distances at that time caused major pain in her back and knees.
The leg wasn’t at full strength, yet Vangsness was able to play her way into the varsity lineup. Vangsness has had 15 surgeries in all, with 13 on her knee.
This year, Vangsness no longer needs a cart. She said she didn’t walk a full 18 holes until the first 18-hole round this season at Bristol Ridge Golf Course. She said she was sore after that round, but has grown stronger with each round she walks. She said the leg isn’t at full strength yet, but it is better than last year.
Vangsness’ personality has emerged along with her golf game. Often wearing a bucket hat, her spirit carries into her game.
“She’s always the life of the party,” Central coach Logan Kimberly said.
Vangsness said she was never teased because of her defect. She said some of her classmates in second grade might have been intimidated after her first surgery that year. She had to wear a cage around her leg to protect the motorized apparatus that was stimulating bone growth.
Several times, Vangsness has talked to classes of younger students about her birth defect.
“She’s embraced that this is part of her story,” Kimberly said.
It was during spring break six months ago that Vangsness said she began to recognize her golf possibilities. She visited an aunt in Arizona, who gave her lessons. Suddenly, her scores were in the 80s. Vangsness continued to play almost daily, pairing with teammate Parker Chladek at Pheasant Hills Golf Course almost every day of the summer.
Vangsness is one of the most powerful drivers in the conference, ranking with New Richmond’s Jessica Hagman and Prescott’s Ava Salay in that regard.
“Her ball striking ability is so solid. She has so much torque on her swing,” Kimberly said.
Vangsness said that her driver is the club that needs the most work.
“My driver goes a long way, but it’s unpredictable. My irons are pretty solid and my approach from 100 yards and in is good,” she said, saying that her drives often travel 220 to 240 yards.
Vangsness said her goal for the season was to make the all-conference second team. She knew she’d need a strong round at the conference tournament to make the first team. The final spot on the first team had to be decided in a tie-breaker. The tie was broken based on the better score in the MBC tournament, where Vangsness’ third place finish earned her the first team spot.
One of the outstanding attributes for Vangsness is her competitive fire.
“I don’t like letting the leg stop me. It gives me motivation to beat everybody,” she said.
Kimberly said Vangsness and the rest of the large sophomore class have raised the expectations for every girl on the team.
“She has a real nice combination of competitiveness and the desire to do well. The sky’s the limit with her talent,” Kimberly said.