Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: A golden glow settled over the sport of golf on Sunday when Justin Rose captured the men’s Olympic Games golf crown. Now, the women take centre stage at Reserva de Marapendi tomorrow aiming to emulate their male counterparts by putting on another glittering show.
A stellar field of 60 players, including nine of the top ten in the world and all three of this year’s major champions, will be eyeing the biggest Olympic prize of a gold medal when Miriam Nagl of the host country hits the opening tee shot at 7.30am.
Whereas the men waited 112 years for a new Olympic champion in Rose last Sunday, the women have had an extra four years to find a successor to Margaret Abbott of the United States, who claimed the title in Paris in 1900.
And every single player in the field teeing off tomorrow to become golf’s newest Olympian is hoping that some of the gold dust sprinkled over his fellow athletes by Rose can rub off on them over the same Gil Hanse-designed course.
Lydia Ko, the world No.1 from New Zealand, has already been within touching distance of a gold medal, having been photographed with Rose in the exuberant aftermath of Sunday’s sell-out in the Brazilian sunshine.
Ko, winner of the year’s first major, said: “I couldn’t actually see the finish because I was just starting to go out on the course. But I could hear how excited the fans were getting and when I was finishing, I was able to see all of the medalists, Matt Kuchar, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. To be able to get a photo with the gold medalist was very special. Hopefully his (positive) vibes came off to me!”
The 19-year-old from Auckland has had her eyes fixed on the main prize in Rio de Janeiro all season and she said: “The Olympics was probably the biggest goal of mine this year. Firstly, to represent New Zealand and obviously to compete in it. If I end up holding a gold medal at the end of Saturday, and standing on the podium, I think it will be extra special. I don’t know if I would ever take that medal off.”
Ko can anticipate a highly charged atmosphere at Reserva de Marapendi as golf seeks to build on a tremendous first week of competition, bringing the game to a huge global audience and the Brazilian public.
World No.2 Ariya Jutanagarn of Thailand and No.3 Brooke Henderson of Canada, who won the Women’s British Open and the Women’s PGA Championship respectively, are in the field after the best seasons of their professional careers.
Jutanugarn, winner of four titles this year alone, admitted: “I’m really excited to have this one moment in my life where I have a chance to play the Olympics. It’s really cool.”
Korea, with four players inside the top ten, including multiple major champion Inbee Park, have a formidable presence along with the three United States representatives, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller.
The USA, along with Sweden and Great Britain, already boast three medals of different colours, and the success of Rose has certainly inspired Team GB. Catriona Matthew, the senior member of the 60-strong field at the age of 46, said: “I watched a little bit of Justin’s last round and that was amazing. Hopefully we can do the same as him. It’s fantastic what he achieved and to have such a tight finish with him and Henrik was great for golf.”
Lydia Ko (New Zealand): “I got to go to the Village and meet a couple of the athletes and eat at the food area. They said it’s the second biggest tent in the world, so I would love to see what the biggest tent in the world is like! But just to be in the team ‘vibe’, wear the uniform, go out and watch the guys play, it’s been really great so far and it’s only going to go up in the next few days.”
Brooke Henderson (Canada): “I loved watching the Winter and Summer Games. I loved watching the athletes compete, and just knowing how much hard work they put into it and the passion they had for what they were doing and their sport. It’s really amazing. And now, to be an Olympian, be one of those athletes, and then look around me and see how hard and how much all of this means to all of them is really a neat experience.”
Charley Hull (Great Britain): “I didn’t see Justin’s win because I was flying in to Rio and arrived at 9pm. I thought it (Rose’s win) was really cool. It’s definitely really inspiring and I think it’s cool that he’s got a gold medal.”
Catriona Matthew (Great Britain): I watched a little bit of Justin yesterday and that was amazing. Hopefully we can do the same as him. Fantastic. He obviously played well all week, and to have such a tight finish with him and Henrik was great for golf.”
Leona Maguire (Ireland): “We’ve been to a bunch of events – hockey and swimming and saw Michael Phelps. So it’s just been really fun. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of and sort of just try to soak up the entire like Olympic atmosphere. I am really excited. As a kid, I’ve been watching the Olympics every four years, so to actually be a part of it is incredible. It’s nice getting to play in the first group on Wednesday, so it will be great to get out there and be an Olympian.”
Miriam Nagl (Brazil) on hitting the opening tee shot: “I feel overcome, actually, but I am very happy to have this honour. I didn’t get the chance to watch Adilson last week, other than on television, but I guess he felt as I will – nervous, proud and honoured because I was born here. This is very special.”
Victoria Lovelady (Brazil): “It’s so special. I’m very happy that he’s able to be part of this experience with me. He’s also able to stay at the village, so being a caddie is like the full experience for him, as well. You know, it’s something that we’ve been looking forward for the past six years, and now we can celebrate it together, live it together, and he’s been such an amazing support all these years, so I’m very happy that he’s right by my side.”
Albane Valenzuela (Switzerland): “My highlight was the Opening Ceremony. That was a great moment. You go into the Maracana Stadium with the Swiss team and you hear all the crowd getting crazy, and the music, it was a pretty special moment. Also just being in the village. This has been a great experience, bumping into Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Novak Djokovic running next to me at the gym. It has been really, really fun. Victoria Lovelady and I were coming out of the cafeteria and we hear everyone saying: “Bolt! Bolt! Bolt!” We see him and then we’re like, “Oh, can we just take a picture with you?” He was really cool.”
Azahara Munoz (Spain): “Everything is amazing. The village is incredible, walking among other athletes and going to the gym and everybody is working out. This morning, I came early and I left the apartment at 7.00 am and you think you are really early. But everybody is already out. It’s incredible. Everybody is running. It’s really cool.”