Golf’s impending return to the Olympics became a little more real on Tuesday when the new Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro hosted a test event featuring nine Brazilian golfers.
The five men and four women, none of them household names, competed in the no-purse, 18-hole exhibition after all of the world’s top players reportedly passed on the chance, even though the PGA Tour had arranged for a free round-trip charter. For the record, Miriam Nagl, a 35-year-old native Brazilian who grew up mostly in Germany and plays on the Ladies European Tour, was the overall medalist with a 67. Alexandre Rocha and Rodrigo Lee, ranked 554th and 1,731st in the world, respectively, were the low male competitors with 68s.
As one would expect, the players spoke highly of the Gil Hanse-designed Olympic layout, which was beleaguered by conflict and delays throughout its years-long development. And despite notable players’ lack of interest in donating their time to a test event that gave out medals for participation, the man overseeing the Olympic men’s and women’s tournament has no doubt the world’s best will be in Rio come August.
“They are going to be there,” Antony Scanlon, the International Golf Federation’s executive director, was quoted as saying in a story ESPN.com published Monday. “Any athlete who qualifies will be there.”
Scanlon cited the Olympics’ mammoth television audience and the opportunity to increase golf’s worldwide exposure as prime motivating factors.
While players such as world No. 1 Jordan Spieth have expressed enthusiasm about competing for the gold in Rio, others such as Adam Scott have been lukewarm. And then there’s the matter of the Zika virus in Brazil, which is a concern particularly to prospective female competitors, among them world No. 2 Inbee Park. (READ story about Inbee Park’s motherhood concern)
While the Olympics figures to draw most of the big names who qualify, I remain skeptical of Scanlon’s assertion that every qualifier will show.
(For more on the Olympics, stay tuned for Global Golf Post’s March 14 issue, which will include a comprehensive look ahead at golf’s return to the Summer Games.)