A Golden Rose – The Story of the Men’s Olympic Golf Tournament
The Olympic Golf Course, which was built specifically for the 2016 Rio Olympics, meanders through the Marapendi Natural Reserve which also happens to be home to some pretty exotic wildlife.
The world’s largest rodents, the capybara, who can weigh up to 150 pounds, roam the Olympic Golf Course, as do monkeys, boa constrictors, owls and three-toed sloths. While the area is home to an array of wildlife, it is the capybara who feel the most welcome. Capybara are members of the guinea pig family but luckily for the players they are vegetarian.
The course is built mostly on a former sand quarry, and by today’s standards is short, measuring 7,128 yards at its zenith. Designed by relatively unknown, Gil Hanse, who won the right in 2011 to design and build the course that every prominent architect in the world most coveted.
The layout is very reminiscent of some of Australia’s great sand-belt links courses (see; Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath etc.). That is no accident; Hanse is an avid admirer of both links golf and the way they design them Down Under.
Water hazards appear on just four holes and there is no rough on the course, but it is defended by contouring, subtle elevation changes and fierce winds that bellow off the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Combine those elements with haphazard sandy waste areas and an abundance of heather and you have an esoteric test of every skill.
The decision by the world’s top 4 players (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy) and a host of other marquee players diluted the quality of the field but in no way diminished the supremacy of the Olympic experience.
After the second round, the leaderboard was a mixed bag of both star and unheralded players. The top 14 players were all from different countries, led by Australia’s Marcus Fraser at 10-under par followed at 9-under by Belgian Thomas Pieters. Newly minted Open Champion, Henrik Stenson, was at 8-under with Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and Great Britain’s Justin Rose who were tied at 6-under.
The winds blew the strongest in Saturday’s 3rd round and the Olympic Golf course would provide its toughest test to date.
The biggest move of the day came from Rose who made an eagle-2 on the 3rd hole and then another eagle on the par-5 5th to storm into the lead at 10-under par. In Thursday’s opening round, Rose had made Olympic history when he aced the par-3 4th hole becoming the first player to hit a perfect shot in the Games (golf was last played in the Olympics 112 years ago).
Rose finished the 3rd round with a superb 6-under par, 65 and the overnight lead at 12-under, heading into Sunday’s medal day. Sweden’s Stenson played beautifully in the difficult conditions shooting a 68 to trail the Englishman by one at 11-under.
Fraser was unable to replicate his superb ball striking from the first two days, but his short game saved him several times as he scrambled for a hard fought 72. At 9-under Fraser was 3 shots clear of America’s Bubba Watson, Sweden’s David Lingmerth, and Argentine Emiliano Grillo, who were tied at 6-under.
A number of players remained in contention for a bronze medal; but it appeared that the run for gold and silver would be between Rose, Stenson, and Fraser.
Rose and Stenson continued their torrid play on Sunday matching each other with front 9, 3-under par, 32’s, in a duel that was reminiscent of last month’s Open Championship.
Fraser fell out of contention after missing several short putts on his front-9 ultimately recording a 1-over par 72 and a tie for 5th.
American Matt Kuchar made the biggest move on the final day after playing a 5 hole stretch in the middle of his round in 6-under par. Starting the day 7 shots behind Rose at 5-under, Kuchar’s finishing 8-under 63 tied Fraser’ first-day score as the best two rounds of the week and earned him the bronze medal.
Stenson and Rose were tied at 15-under par as they played the par-5 final hole. Both players hit their second shots short of the green. Stenson’s approach came up 30 feet short of the hole while Rose hit a superlative pitch to within two feet of the hole. Knowing he needed to make his putt to tie, Stenson birdie attempt went 8 feet past the hole and he missed his par putt to finish at 14-under and claim silver. Rose converted his birdie to be 16-under and become golf’s golden man.
It is not a coincidence that both Stenson and Rose would have risen to this occasion. While so many of the world’s best players eschewed their chance at Olympic glory, both of these players have embraced the opportunity to be a part of the Games.
Earlier in the week, Rose had summed it up perfectly saying that: “This (being part of the Olympics) was a once in a lifetime experience”.