(ATR) Doubts from the pros about golf at the Olympics are hard to find at the Masters.
Henrik Stenson in Augusta. (Getty Images)
Seven years ago when the IOC voted to include the sport on the program the first time since 1904, the reaction seemed mixed among the men’s top players. But with the Rio Olympics just four months away, the golfers are enthusiastic about the possibility of winning a gold medal.
“I’m looking forward to it. It should be the experience of a lifetime,” Henrik Stenson of Sweden tells Around the Rings
“I’ve never been to an Olympic Games before so it’s going to be a great experience I’m sure. I’m going to be proud to walk into the opening ceremony with the rest of the Swedish athletes to represent my country,” Stenson says.
A professional since 1998, Stenson turned 40 this week in Augusta and is seventh in the world rankings of the International Golf Federation.
Jason Day. (Getty Images)
Current number-one Jason Day of Australia expressed his eagerness to play in Rio at a press conference Tuesday.
“As a kid growing up, this is a tournament I watched all the time and I wanted to win the Masters. I grew up watching the Olympics, but golf was never a sport that was‑‑ other than back in, what, 1904 or whatever it was.
“But we never grew up watching golf in the Olympics, so it wasn't really on my radar ever as a junior, amateur or professional. But now it is.
“So the perspective of being an Olympic athlete has changed a lot, and having the opportunity to represent your country, my country of Australia, is huge and I'm looking forward to it and it would be a complete honor to go down there and represent Australia and try to win a gold medal for my country,” Day said Tuesday.
Beyong Hun An of South Korea is 15th in the Olympic rankings and will compete in Rio de Janeiro.
Byeong Hun An (ATR)
“I think it’s as important as the rest of the majors, especially because it’s the Olympics, once every four years,” An tells ATR
While he discounts his chances for a medal in Rio, An says Korea’s female golfers should be on the podium.
“Women have a high chance of winning. I’m really confident they can win a medal, even gold. For the men it’s tough. There are dozens who can win gold medals. Still I will do my best,” An said.
Retired women’s tour great Anikka Sorenstam was part of the team that made the push to the IOC for Olympic golf seven years ago. Now she’s making plans to be in Rio to support Olympic golf.
“I’m a big believer that the Olympics will grow the game and
open up markets that haven’t seen golf before,” she tells ATR
Follow through, important for a golf swing, will be key to taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Olympic golf says Sorenstam.
“We need to have programs in place to make sure we sustain this movement. If we start something we have to make sure it stays,” she says.
International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson says “the world of golf is behind Olympic golf”.
Peter Dawson (ATR)
“When we made the bid it was strongly supported by small golfing nations,” he tells ATR
“They felt it would increase exposure to the game in their countries, increase government funding and government support. And it became clear that this would be the biggest grow the game opportunity for golf,” says Dawson.
Dawson says the Olympics will deliver the potential for growth of the game in Rio de Janeiro. The course that’s been constructed for the Olympics will be a public course and the site of a golf academy to bring young people into the sport.
Golf in Rio will include 60 men and 60 women competing in a 72-hole stroke play tournament. The men compete from August 11-14, the women from August 17 – 20.
Written and reported at Augusta National Golf Club by Ed Hula.
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