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Golf Wrap: Olympic golf experience way above par

24 August 2016

GOLF: Golf returned to the Olympics for the first time in over a century and, as far as the Australian contingent was concerned, it was well worth the wait.

Australia’s four players all missed out on medals, but three of them were in contention in their final rounds, and Marcus Fraser in particular will be able to regale friends with Olympic stories over a beer for the rest of his days.

The knockabout 38-year-old from Corowa, NSW, made history by becoming the first Australian golfer ever to strike a ball in Olympic competition.

He then proceeded to lead the field a merry dance, shooting a record eight-under par 63 on day one.

He held the lead at the halfway point, too, and well into the third round, and played on the final day in the final group with eventual gold medallist Justin Rose of Britain and silver medallist Henrik Stenson of Sweden, the reigning British Open champion.

Fraser carded a closing 72 to finish tied for fifth, with teammate Scott Henden 39th in the 60-man field, but put in a truly Olympian effort.

He owed his spot to the withdrawal of Aussie stars including Jason Day and Adam Scott, who along with some other big names in world golf pulled out citing family concerns over the Zika virus.

But his first round alone was worth coming to Rio for, and he remarked: “My kids will wake up (in Melbourne) in the morning in shock to learn their old man is leading the Olympics.”

In the women’s tournament, Minjee Lee and Su Oh both went into the final round in equal eighth place.

Lee shot a closing 67 to tie for sixth and Oh a 70 to tie for 13th, but things were closer than they might seem. Lee had a long eagle putt on the 18th hole which would have put in her in joint third spot.

“I do feel I have made Australia proud and I feel pretty good,” said Lee after Inbee Park of Korea collected the gold medal, Lydia Ko of New Zealand the silver and Shanshan Feng of China bronze in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904.

“The experience was really special,” said Oh.

“We have 36 events on the LPGA so if you have one bad week you pick yourself up and move on to the next one. But this one only comes around every four years.

“I can’t believe I get to call myself an Olympian now,” she said, adding that she was already looking forward to playing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Australian team captain Ian Baker-Finch was impressed by the calm mental attitude of both young Aussie women, saying: “If I had been that close to a medal I would have been kicking a door in the locker room.”

He branded the pair “world class”, capable of breaking into the world top 10 in the long term and with the  possibility of making it to number one.

Baker-Finch said he was a little disappointed that crowds for the women were noticeably thinner than those for the men but “that would be the only negative I could think of for this tournament”.

“It was really, really good, well done and well organised,” he said.

“All in all it was a very positive experience.

“The course was great – 10 out of 10.

“There was a lot of negativity heading into the event that just wasn’t warranted.

“I probably saw three mosquitoes in the whole three weeks. I saw more alligators and capybaras,” he said, referring to the giant Brazilian rodents that to Aussies look more like small wombats.

Baker-Finch is keen to see a change of format in future Olympics, but acknowledged that organisers couldn’t step “too far outside the box” in the first tournament for 112 years.

“I wished and hoped they would have gone with the World Cup format of singles and doubles,” he said.

“I think we would have had stronger representation in the men’s field if there were two-man teams, like doubles in tennis.

“Still have 72 holes but let’s have two medals – a singles and a team. That would have added to the team atmosphere.”

He predicted a big surge of support for golf at Tokyo’s 202 Olympics.

“Japan is more of a golf nation, so even with the same format it will be better next time,” he said.

“Tennis struggled the first time or two it was included in the Olympics but now it seems to me to be sought after.”

“Golf deserves to be here. The women have embraced it and I think the men will do better next time, having seen how good it was this time.”

Doug Conway

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