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, five-star 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 season 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.”