Olympic women's golf: Park captures gold
August 20, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Korea's Inbee Park, center, captured gold in front of New Zealand's Lydia Ko, left, and China's Shanshan Feng. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO – Korea’s Inbee Park won the first gold medal in Olympic women’s golf in 116 years, cruising to a five-stroke victory over New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who took silver with a birdie on the final hole. China’s Shanshan Feng took the bronze. News and notes below from Saturday’s final round at the Olympic golf course.
MORE: Final leaderboard
DON’T EVER DOUBT INBEE
Evidently, some people in Korea questioned whether Inbee Park should have played in the Olympics. They were worried about her thumb injury that has troubled her since January. They were worried about her conditioning, worried about her form. She’s done nothing the past two months other than miss a couple of cuts.
The depth of women’s golf talent in Korea is so deep, why not make sure the four going to Rio were in the best shape – even if it meant putting a qualified Hall of Famer on the sidelines?
Park felt the pressure. Two months ago, she felt nothing was guaranteed. But once she got her mind right and committed to the Olympics … well, there really wasn’t anything stopping her. She finished a four-day clinic with her third 66 of the Olympics, taking all of the drama out of the gold-medal chase.
In the end, whatever she had to deal with, all the naysayers and even the self-doubts that might have crept in at one point, were all worth it. She won Olympic gold.
“A lot of people were saying that maybe it is better to have another player in the field, a fellow South Korean player, which is very understandable,” Park said. “But I really wanted to do well this week to show a lot people that I can still play.”
Indeed she did. She ranked second in the field this week in strokes gained: putting, and fifth in strokes gained: tee to green. There was no weakness in her game. In shooting a first-round 66, she gained nearly five strokes on the field from tee-to-green. In shooting the same score Saturday, she gained nearly five strokes with her putter.
It was a dominant performance – and, at 16 under, her score was the same as Justin Rose’s gold-medal winning score on the men’s side.
“All the fans worried about if she can compete at the Olympics, if she should represent the country,” Korea’s World Golf Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak said just after the medal ceremony. “That’s pretty hard to make the decision to come out and play. But once she made up her mind, she knew what to do. Her belief in herself and her preparedness – well, we can see what’s happening now. It’s amazing.”
Park, winner of 17 LPGA Tour events, including seven majors, wasn’t happy with her swing earlier in the summer, but she worked with two coaches – friends of her husband, she said – and that alleviated some of her concerns.
The gold medal alleviated any other concerns about whether she belonged in Rio.
“This is something I’ve really been dreaming coming into this week,” she said. “Representing your country in the Olympic Games and getting a medal – it’s such a special feeling. There were so many Korean people out here supporting me. It almost felt like we were in Korea.”
Perhaps the ones who doubted her should have made the trip too.
THE PUTT TO WIN SILVER
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko wasn’t going to catch Inbee Park for gold. That seemed evident early on. But the next-best thing was still on the table.
It didn’t appear to be Ko’s day, though. The world’s No. 1 player just couldn’t get any putts to fall. In her first three holes, she missed two birdie putts and a par putt by a cumulative 5 inches. She left other putts hanging at the sixth, eighth and ninth holes.
After a bogey at 11, she was 1 over for her round. Luckily, no other contenders were going low. Ultimately, as the world’s best often do, Ko willed her way back up the leaderboard.
Heading to the 18th green, she was tied with Shanshan Feng for second place. Ko was assured of a medal but wanted to avoid a playoff – which she did by rolling in an eight-foot birdie putt.
“My celebration was like as if I won the gold,” Ko said. “I wasn’t putting very great today, so just to see something go in, I think, was really cool because now there’s no playoff.”
At just 19, Ko figures to have another shot at gold four years from now in Tokyo. By then, she’ll likely have added several more trophies to her collection, which already includes 14 LPGA wins and two majors.
One thing that may not be sitting on the trophy shelf any time soon is the medal wrapped around her neck.
“I said, if I get a medal, I’m never going to take it off,” Ko said. “I think I might have to shower with it. I know that it doesn’t rust – or at least we’re going to try.”
THE SMILE THAT WON BRONZE
Shanshan Feng realizes that most people in her native China don’t watch golf on television. But they do watch the Olympics – after all, Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games and will host the 2022 Winter Games. So she knew that women’s golf might be the first time many of her countrymen would see the sport.
So she decided to smile. A lot.
“I made sure I brought out my A game and my smiles all the time,” Feng said. “Whenever I missed a putt or made a putt, I was like, ‘Oh, people in China are watching, so I need to make sure I look nicely.
“Normally when we play golf, maybe we’ll have poker faces because we’re in working mode. We want to be serious. But this is the first time people see me, so maybe I need to look a little nicer.”
No doubt her new fans thought she looked nice with the bronze medal. Having started the day one stroke behind third, she shot a 2-under 69 to take advantage when American Gerina Piller dropped down the leaderboard.
Feng, ranked 14th in the world, credited the all-smile approach as key to grabbing a podium spot.
“It helped me release all the pressure because I smiled. That meant I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I didn’t care about the results and I just wanted to enjoy the week – and that’s how I got here.”
BOUNCE-BACK ROUND NOT ENOUGH
American Stacy Lewis gave herself a shot at a medal with a second-round 63. Then she shot her way out of contention with a third-round 76.
On Saturday, she nearly shot her way back on the podium. Nearly.
A final-round, 5-under 66 left Lewis at 9 under. When she walked off the 18th green after failing to birdie the par-5 18th, she was tied for third and hoping for a medal playoff. But Lydia Ko and Shanshan Feng had plenty of holes left and eventually moved up the leaderboard, leaving Lewis tied for fourth – the toughest finish to stomach at the Olympics.
She’ll leave Rio knowing the third-round 76 kept her off the podium.
“Things started going kind of sideways and I couldn’t stop it,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what I would have done different to try to slow things down.”
But she was happy with her bounce-back performance Saturday. At least she gave herself a chance. She was bogey-free on the back nine and had two late birdies, but couldn’t get her 15-foot, 7-inch putt to fall on 18. If it had, she would have been in a playoff for the bronze against Feng.
“To have a good day after yesterday where nothing went right was a big deal for me personally,” Lewis said. “To post a number to give myself a chance at the medal at the end – I think coming into the week, that’s all you can ask for.”