Underdogs Who Might Garner Olympic Glory

REUTERS/Paul Childs. Picture Supplied by Action Images.

The fields for next month’s Olympic golf tournaments in Rio de Janeiro are finally set, it was announced earlier this week.

Fields of 60 men and 60 women will chase gold in golf’s return to the Games after 112 years. Following a rash of withdrawals, just eight of world’s top 25 players will compete on the men’s side, while 15 of the top 25 women will tee it up.


Glancing through the men’s field, the favorite for gold would have to be Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who won the Open Championship in a performance for the ages last Sunday. And on the women’s side, how can you bet against New Zealand’s Lydia Ko?

A handful of other major winners, such as American Bubba Watson, Great Britain’s Danny Willett and Justin Rose, or Germany’s Martin Kaymer could enter the conversation for the men. In the deeper women’s field, Canadian Brooke Henderson, Americans Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn – not to mention any one of the four South Korean golfers entered (Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang and In Gee Chun) – figure to be factors.

With a host of less prominent players from far-flung lands slated to compete against these more established stars, it’s fun to imagine the underdogs who might grab a place on the podium in Rio. Here are a handful I’d like to see:

MEN

  • Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand): Jaidee, 46, has won eight times on the European Tour, including the Open de France earlier this month. If he were to win gold, he’d be the same age George Lyon was when the Canadian captured golf’s last gold medal in 1904.

  • Byeong Hun An (South Korea): An, a 24-year-old European Tour winner, has Olympic pedigree. His parents, Ahn Jae-Hyung and Jiao Zhimin, were medalists in table tennis at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

  • Jaco van Zyl (South Africa): A 37-year-old stalwart on the Sunshine Tour in his native land, van Zyl withdrew from both the Open Championship and PGA Championship to ensure he’d be ready for Rio. How can you not root for him?

  • SSP Chawrasia (India): The 38-year-old winner of this year’s Hero Indian Open grew up in a shack behind the ninth green at Royal Calcutta Golf Club, where his father was on the greenkeeping staff. Talk about an underdog.

WOMEN

  • Gerina Piller (USA): Less well-known than her American teammates Lewis and Thompson, the 31-year-old New Mexico native has performed on the Solheim Cup stage but has yet to win on the LPGA Tour. An Olympic gold would be a fitting first triumph.

  • Teresa Lu (Taiwan): Lu, a 28-year-old standout in the Far East, has won nine times in the past three years on the Japan LPGA.

  • Leona Maguire (Ireland): One of two amateurs in the women’s field, the 21-year-old Duke University junior is the former top-ranked amateur in the world who nearly won on the Ladies European Tour last year.

  • Maha Haddioui (Morocco): The last player in on the women’s side, the 28-year-old Ladies European Tour player is the only Arab player in the field.

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