The ancient Olympic Games motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius may sometimes appear from another era, but in the case of three young women golfers, the Latin phrase for Faster, Higher, Stronger adopted by Pierre de Coubertin is entirely appropriate.
The Founder of the modern Olympic Games would surely have approved of Tiffany Chan, Leona Maguire and Albane Valenzuela competing in the first Olympic golf competition since 1904 (and the first women’s event since 1900).
As the only three amateur golfers among the 120 entrants (60 men and 60 women) taking part at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, the trio have not yet earned one pound, euro or dollar from the sport.
That may change in the future as professional golf beckons, but for now Chan, from Hong Kong, Ireland’s Maguire and Swiss miss Valenzuela have been playing for pride and honour.
That is not to underestimate their abilities. All three boast impressive credentials at amateur level, and all of them have performed with distinction in the professional events which enabled them to gather enough points to finish inside the top 60 on the Olympic Golf Rankings.
Chan has already won the Future Open, an LPGA of Taiwan event in 2015 – a victory which help plot her course towards Rio – and her qualification was described by the President of the Hong Kong Golf Association as: “the greatest day in Hong Kong golfing history”. High praise indeed for the 22-year-old.
Maguire, 21, carried the prestige of being the world’s No.1 women’s amateur player for a full year between May 2015 and May 2016 while Valenzuela, at just 18 years of age, made the cut in two majors, the ANA Inspiration and US Women’s Open this year to hurtle towards Olympic glory.
Both Maguire and Valenzuela will enjoy parental and sibling assistance when the women’s event tees off on August 17. Leona, who is 15 minutes younger than her twin, Lisa, will have her sister on caddie duty, a role she performed in the recent RICOH British Women’s Open, where Leona tied for 25th at Woburn in England.
Valenzuela’s father, Alberto, will also be caddying for his teenage daughter, having also fulfilled that role on a number of occasions as Albane has taken a stratospheric route towards the upper echelons of the women’s amateur game.
“It’s a dream come true, and I aim to enjoy every single moment,” said Maguire. “And to have my sister as caddie, and being able to share the experience with her, is extra special. We are both staying in the Olympic Village and it will be reassuring to have Lisa there, with mum and dad staying at home to watch on TV.”
Valenzuela, the offspring of two talented golfers, has no issue with Alberto carrying the golf bag, although mum, Diane, and her brothers, will be watching from outside the ropes.
She said “My dad was a very good international amateur golfer and it’s great to have him by my side. He’s caddied for me many times before. It works really well. He knows my personality and it’s been a good partnership.”
Chan will have her parents and sister, Cathy, among the spectators at Reserva de Marapendi, and she is reveling in the opportunity to represent her country, where the reaction to her selection has been “exceptional”.
She said “The media reaction has been overwhelming and really positive. Now I am looking forward to going to Rio and meeting world class athletes from all over the world in the Olympic Village, playing against the top female golfers in the game but, above all, representing Hong Kong as an Olympian, which is potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Consorting with other athletes from a variety of sports also appeals to Valenzuela, who is disappointed that two famous Swiss, tennis players Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, have pulled out of the Games due to injury.
“I am staying in the Village and looking forward to the overall experience,” she added. “I am attending the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and I hope to walk around the Village and maybe bump into Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps – among the best athletes in the world. It should be amazing. I wouldn’t miss the ceremonies for the world as I may never do anything like it again.”
Due to other commitments, Maguire and Chan will only manage to attend the Closing Ceremony, which falls 24 hours after the first women’s gold, silver and bronze women’s medals for 116 years are decided.
Maguire added: “I am looking forward to the Closing Ceremony, but also I want to seeing some other sports. At a normal tournament, that is not an option. It would be unbelievable to go and watch an Irish athlete win a medal. I remember at London 2012, it seemed like the whole of Ireland stopped to watch Katie Taylor win gold in the boxing. It was phenomenal.”
The Irish woman from Co. Cavan admitted that the Olympics “were not even on my radar” until she was made aware that amateur golfers could qualify. As world No.1, she received invitations to professional events and gradually moved up into the top 60 on the Olympic Rankings.
She also received huge encouragement from Ireland’s Team Leader, the winning 2014 Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley. She said: “Paul’s been great. Really supportive. He got in touch to encourage me to try to get into as many pro events as possible and to try to qualify. He’s always sending me texts asking how things are going and he sent photos of the Olympic course after his visit to Rio. He is definitely going to help Stephanie Meadow and me to prepare in the best way possible.”
All three women have a bright future ahead of them. Who knows? The amateur may yet have the measure of the professional when their competition reaches a climax on August 20. Citius, Altius, Fortius indeed!