Johannesburg - South African golf legend Gary Player says he is looking forward to guiding the two-man squad of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, starting in August.
This will be the first time since 1904 that golf will be played at the Games.
Next year’s contest will take place at the Reserva Marapendi Golf Course in Barra da Tijuca. It will feature men’s and women’s individual events.
Mzansi will be sending its first-ever male team to the contest. Their female squad will not compete because of its poor ranking globally.
Both top-class golfers - Oosthuizen (13th) and Grace (19th) - have qualified by virtue of their rankings.
According to the International Golf Federation, a body affiliated to the International Olympic Committee, the world’s top-15-ranked players will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from any given country. South Africa will have to make do with its duo in Brazil.
Over and above the general eligibility criteria, the amateur SA Golf Association (SAGA) of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), as well as the Sunshine Tour, have agreed on the following criteria for the selection of golfers:
- The Olympic golf ranking of July 11, 2016; and
- . A qualification slot allocated to the athlete by name.
Grace will hopefully move up the rung before the July 11 deadline. But he has been counted in already.
Player (80), who himself will not be playing in the event, told City Press last week from Sun City, North West, where he staged his charitable event, the Gary Player Invitational presented by Coca-Cola at Lost City Golf Course, that he was delighted to be afforded the chance to guide the fortunes of both golfers on such a big stage.
“Being tasked to lead the golfers in the Olympics is a massive responsibility. I’m hoping to give it my best shot and make the boys shine by bringing home a gold medal from Brazil,” said Player.
The maestro won more than 165 events worldwide in an illustrious professional career that spanned nearly six decades, during which he snatched nine majors.
Player, whose captaincy was made official by SAGA, said he had been monitoring the progress of both players, who ply their trade on the European and US PGA tours.
Both professionals will also be in the field that will be competing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City from December 3-6.
“I like the way they have conducted themselves abroad. I will personally give them special tips on how to attack the greens during the challenge,” said Player.
“The idea is to enable them to get a feel for me coaching them ahead of the Olympics.”
He said he would hopefully accompany the boys on their overseas mission from February onwards with a view “to monitoring their progress” and improving their play before the Games.
Player said he had wanted to see former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel being eligible for Rio, but this was scuppered by the player languishing at 55th in the rankings.
“It will be impossible for him to reach a top-15 spot by the given time, unless a miracle happens.”
*Meanwhile, Player’s charity showdown last weekend raised R6.2 million in donations during the auction.
Among charity beneficiaries were Wings and Wishes, as well as the Wildlands in partnership with Qhubeka, a charity organisation that “helps people move forward and progress by giving bicycles in return for work done to improve communities, the environment or academic results”.