The Olympic Spirit
Inbee Park was the leader after the 3rd round of the Women’s Olympic golf tournament in Rio. The former world #1, who has been battling injuries for the last few months, battled the elements (wind gusts of 30 mph) for a well-deserved 1-under par, 70, giving her a two shot advantage, at 11-under entering Saturday’s final round. The 28-year old Park numbers seven Major Championships in her 17 LPGA Tour victories and is just one win away from being inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Park’s closest pursuer was current world #1, Lydia Ko from New Zealand, who had stormed back into the fray with a 6-under par 65 in Friday’s 3rd round. Ko shot a 6-under par 29, on her front-9 which was highlighted by her first ever (probably one of the only things in golf that the 19 year phenom had not accomplished; until now) hole-in-one on the 140 yard, par-3 8th hole.
The 3rd member of Saturdays’ final round pairing was American Gerina Piller. Gerina Piller was the last of the four American players to qualify for the Olympic team. The U.S. and Korea, have 4 players ranked in the top 15 of the world rankings which is why they could field 4 players each. Piller has never won on the LPGA Tour, but has recorded 11 top-5 finishes and is passionate about representing her country and playing in the Olympics. To date her defining moment was when she made the winning putt in the 2017 Solheim Cup in Germany.
Ko and Piller were at 9-under in a tie for second, one shot ahead of China’s Shanshan Feng. American star, Stacy Lewis whose 8-under, 63 in the second round rocketed her into contention, retreated with a 76 on Friday to be at 4-under. She was joined at that score by five other players: Great Britain’s Charley Hull, Canadian and world #2 Brooke Henderson, Australian Minjee Lee, Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen.
With nine different countries represented in the first ten positions on the leaderboard, the game’s worldwide influence on the Olympic spirit was imbued on the world’s greatest sporting stage.
Every woman who was eligible participated in the 31st edition of the Olympiad and universally relished the opportunity to be a part of the Games as golf made its Olympic return after a 116 year absence. It was a vastly different attitude as a whole, than their male counterparts, so many of whom decided to skip the Games.
Park separated herself from the field as the final round began making birdies on 3 of her opening 7 holes to command a 5-shot lead at 14-under. It would be a lead that she never relinquished ultimately shooting a closing 66 and the same 5-shot margin over second place.
The excitement came with the race for the silver and bronze medals. Lewis rebounded from her disappointing 3rd round with a 5-under, 66 putting her in the most unwanted place in an Olympic event, 4th and a shot out of the medals. Piller’s final round struggles continued, while fading into a tie for 11th with a 74, but surely the likable 31-year old’s time will come.
Feng and Ko matched each other with 68’s and the bronze and silver medals respectively. The brilliant Kiwi made a closing birdie-4 on the last hole to edge China’s favorite golfer by one and also become the youngest athlete in New Zealand history to medal at the Games.
It was however a virtuoso performance by Park who has not played a competitive round in two months because of the injury to her thumb and was not considered one of the favorites at the beginning of the week. There has been speculation that Park will soon retire to start a family after her marriage at the beginning of last year and if she were to do so, this would be a crowning achievement in a meteoric career.
While there are only three players who win medals, each one of the 60 players who competed this week will forever be known as Olympians. Every single player both embraced and personified the spirit of the Games and both they and the game itself were winners in Rio.