Gary Player’s Rio 2016 diary

2016-08-17 14:51
Gary Player (Black Knight Archives)

The return of golf at the Olympics has exceeded all expectations and will surely be etched in Olympic folklore forever. Hopefully the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not even remotely consider ever removing it from future Games. The golf was not only a huge success, but also a beautiful spectacle put on by some amazing golfers and watched by thousands of appreciative fans. Long live golf at the Olympics!

After 112 years of waiting, Brazil’s Adilson da Silva had the honour of hitting the first tee shot to mark golf’s return at the Olympics. I think all golf fanatics breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that golf was back where it belongs.

South African Brandon Stone got off to a flyer, birdieing the first two holes. The 23-year-old eventually signed for a 75. Meanwhile, his compatriot Jaco van Zyl did slightly better, finishing off with a level-par 71. We must not forget that the Olympics is new to all the golfers. Yes, there are going to be nerves, and it will take time for them to find their feet and settle down. Another important point to remember is that at the Olympics it is not always about winning. Just being called an Olympian is an honour in itself and I have huge admiration and respect for our South African team and all the other golf professionals representing their countries at the Games.

Day one of the golf had its fair share of excitement, with Justin Rose notably hitting the first ever hole-in-one in Olympic golf history. As you can understand, he was ecstatic. The crowd erupted, which was fantastic to witness. The course played beautifully and everyone I spoke to during and after the round couldn’t stop raving about the condition of the fairways and greens. At the end of day one, Australian Marcus Fraser reigned supreme with a brilliant 63.

If there is anyone more obsessed with a sport than I am with golf, it must be my wife’s obsession with rugby. I decided to keep on the good side of Vivienne and bought tickets for the Sevens finals to surprise her, and she was over the moon. The drive to Deodoro Stadium was an experience in itself. We drove for what seemed to be hours through affluent areas, forests and favelas. We eventually found our seats and enjoyed a carnival of Sevens rugby and really enjoyed the whole experience. As one can expect, we were quite disappointed with South Africa’s loss to Great Britain in the semi-final, but have to be satisfied with the bronze medal. Neil Powell’s men played their hearts out and we were very proud. We must remember that one wins with honour and loses with dignity, but disappointment will always remain a reality. I feel sorry for our boys, but I know that they will only come back stronger. 

Back to the golf, and Sunday was met with a buzz of excitement as the new golfing Olympians resumed battle. I followed all the groups as best I could, trying to catch a glimpse of as many players as possible, but eventually ended up following Jaco. After the round, I settled down to watch what became a ding-dong battle between two top players in the game right now – Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. It was a perfect clash of titans for the ardent fans in Rio. The question was who would hold his nerve and who would crack first? Unfortunately for Stenson, he endured a tough final hole and dropped a shot against the birdie of Rose on 18 and ultimately had to settle for the silver medal. Mr. Nice Guy of golf, Matt Kuchar, raced up the leaderboard and claimed the bronze medal with a super 63.

The golf world’s attention now shifts to the ladies. They deserve so much credit for being super supporters of golf’s return to the Olympics. It’s great to see so many familiar faces. Many of the female golfers have played in Gary Player Invitational events around the world over the years, including Suzann Pettersen. No doubt she has to be a favourite this week.  All the ladies are full of life and excited to be Olympians. 34 countries are represented in the ladies’ side of the draw, which sees a true melting pot of talent coming together in Rio. Keep an eye out for world number one Lydia Ko and talented Canadian rookie Brooke Henderson.

I’m very excited to watch Paula Reto and Ashleigh Simon compete on behalf of South Africa in Rio. These two ladies have plenty of talent and are enjoying good seasons on Tour. They can absolutely bring home a medal. If the men’s tournament is any indication of how well it will play out for the women, starting today, get ready because everyone is in for a real treat.

As the curtain falls on the first golf tournament to be held at the Olympics in more than 100 years, reflecting upon my Rio experience, Brazil is a country of many extremes. There is poverty beyond belief, unimaginable riches and everything in between. One may ask: should Rio ever have hosted the Olympics or should they perhaps have used the money to better the lives of their people? I am not in a position to answer this question, but will certainly never forget my Olympic experience. I haven’t even see a single mosquito here and that makes me more disappointed in the people who withdrew citing Zika as an excuse.  I have had a wonderful time and believe that Brazil and the IOC did a marvellous job hosting a spectacle of this magnitude. At the end of the day, golf was the biggest winner at the Games and having so many new people watch golf, we can only hope smaller countries will follow in the footsteps of this great sport. More countries than ever before have joined the International Golf Federation, which is a great omen for the future of golf around the world.

Gary Player is the most successful international golfer of all time and is the captain of South Africa’s golf team at the Rio Olympics. He will be sharing his experiences of the Games for Sport24.

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