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Gary Player’s Rio 2016 diary

2016-08-25 11:27
Gary Player and the SA women's team (Black Knight Archives)
Having hardly recovered from the excitement of the mens’ tournament, I found myself receiving a jolt of energy by turning my attention to the ladies’ event in Rio de Janeiro. I got myself ready to captain two wonderful South African athletes in Ashleigh Simon and Paula Reto. All the female golfers who competed in Rio work hard and are dedicated, not to mention they are extremely talented. It enhances the fact that golf belongs in the Olympics.

I couldn’t wait for the start of what I believe can become one of the premier tournaments in golf. Unlike the men, all the top female players came to Rio to compete for their countries.

Days in Rio flew by quickly and before I knew it was tournament day. I arrived at the course extra early to watch some of the other countries’ golfers tee off. Then it was time for the South African ladies to hit their first shots as Olympians. I felt an enormous sense of pride, as I watched their tee shots fly effortlessly down the centre of the first fairway.

As with the men, they did not get off to the start I'm sure they had hoped for. Paula signed for a 74 and Ashleigh for a 75, but the competition was far from over. After the opening round, I sat down to lunch with the team. Paula kindly asked me if I would be willing to assist her with a couple of things she was battling with. I spent a few hours with her, fine-tuning and answering her questions. She is a fine young woman with enormous potential. She has real talent and I predict to see her amongst the world's top players in the not too distant future.

All the ladies produced scintillating golf, as did the men the previous week, but it always looked like there could be only one winner. South Korea's Inbee Park was on a golden mission, leaving the rest of the field to do battle for the silver and bronze. I have no doubt she is a future Hall of Famer. As expected, Park shot a five under to finish at 16 under-par for the tournament, a full five shots clear of second place. The competition for silver and bronze was a little more exciting, with several players battling throughout the final round for a cherished place on the podium. In the end, a birdie on the 18th by world No 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand gave her the silver, while China’s Shanshan Feng claimed the bronze medal.

All of South Africa should be extremely proud of the golfers who flew the flag for our nation. The fact that only four golfers in the whole of South Africa are Olympians is a fantastic accolade in itself. They are now true Olympians, and that honour can never be taken away.

After almost two weeks of residing in Rio, walking the golf course numerous times and the added responsibility of captaining both of our teams, I could feel the tension building up in my body. I opted for a long, hard work out at the Athletes’ Village gym, which I came to love. It amazing how rejuvenated one feels after a good workout. I wondered to myself what the fine-tuned Olympians thought of this old geezer exercising next to those at the top of their game. Hopefully, it will inspire them to remain in shape well past their playing days.

As the curtain fell on the 2016 Olympic Games, and at the conclusion of the ladies’ golf medal ceremony, I sat alone in my room and reflected. I couldn’t help but feel a tremendous sense of elation, pride and amazement at what I had witnessed. A game that has been the anchor and provider for my family for 63 years, made a triumphant return to the greatest sporting show on earth. I always say that when I look back on my career there are no regrets, but if I had one it would be that I never enjoyed the opportunity to stand up and represent my country as an Olympian. Nonetheless, I’m delighted to have been a part of this experience, and will never forget it. Golf left Brazil in far better shape than when it arrived.

I believe golf can certainly make its case to the IOC for inclusion after Tokyo in 2020 during our review next year. Anyone from the golf world who experienced what took place in Rio will agree with our inclusion. The TV ratings were excellent, the organisation seamless, the players overjoyed with the Olympic spirit, and golf undoubtedly made many new friends. Everything exceeded our greatest expectations. We had medalists from six different nations.

The last few weeks have been a special time for me. I have met athletes and made friends from many different countries, sporting codes and cultures. Over the 17 days of competition in the Brazilian capital, we forgot about all the world's problems and came together as human beings. We embraced each other with love and respect. I hope and pray that this attitude can prove a catalyst to someday achieve peace and harmony throughout the world.

Gary Player is the most successful international golfer of all time and captained South Africa’s golf team at the Rio Olympics. He shared his experiences exclusively for Sport24.

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