Australians sweep the individual titles as Thais demonstrate golden team spirit
Seventeen-year-old pair Grace Kim and Karl Vilips ensured that Australia won both individual golds in the golf at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Meanwhile, Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul and Vanchai Luangnitikul joined forces to secure the title in the mixed team event.
Kim took control of the women’s event during the second round, posting a one under par scorecard of 69. That gave her a combined total of 140 at the halfway point, level with Italy’s Alessia Nobilio (who had featured in Europe’s victorious Junior Ryder Cup team earlier in the year), whose first- round score of 68 had put her at the top of the leaderboard.
In the third round, Kim moved into the ascendancy, carding a one over par 71 to give her a final total of 211, which was enough to give her the gold medal, three shots clear of her closest rivals.
“That was one of my best performances to date,” she enthused. The Aussie had needed to keep her cool after dropping two shots on the first four holes of the final round. “I’m very proud of what I have done here. I had an excellent second round – my best of the competition - and that really helped me.
“Normally I struggle with the mental pressure in the final round, but here I was really strong, and I’m very proud of that.”
Two other players finished level with Nobilio on four over par for a share of second place: Austria’s Emma Spitz and the Philippines’ Yuka Saso. The latter carded 69 in the final round to post the best score of the day. The three then contested a one-hole play-off round on the fourth to determine the destiny of the silver and bronze medals. Nobilio produced a birdie on the par four hole to secure the silver, while Spitz parred the hole to take the bronze, leaving Saso out of the medals after she could only manage a bogey.
Karl Vilips conjures double birdie finish for gold
The gold medal in the men’s competition also headed “down under”, thanks to a gilt-edged performance from Karl Vilips, who finished all three rounds under par with a scorecard of 69, 68 and 69, to deliver a four-under-par total of 137. He finished with a flourish, serving up two birdies on the final two holes of the last round, putting him two shots ahead of his closest rival, Akshay Bhatia of the USA.
Bhatia had looked like a strong contender for gold early on, following a stuttering start by Vilips, but his final round of 70 meant he had to settle for silver. Dutch golfer Jerry Ji produced a final round surge and a card of 68 that catapulted him into the bronze medal position.
“I’m delighted,” said Vilips, who made up for three bogeys and one double bogey in the final round by holing no fewer than six birdies. “I had three difficult weeks preparing for this tournament, and I never thought I could achieve something like this. It’s a dream come true to have done what I’ve done here.”
Superb Thais top team event
Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul and Vanchai Luangnitikul were every bit as impressive in their march to victory in the mixed team event. Thitikul - already a winner on the Ladies’ European Tour - and Luangnitikul simply refused to accept defeat as they fought hard to secure the gold.
Finding themselves five shots behind the American pairing of Akshay Bhatia and Lucy Li with just three holes to play in the final round, the gold medal looked well beyond their grasp. However, Thitikul then produced two birdies in the last two holes to put them on top of the podium.
“We were playing for the silver medal, so we didn’t feel any pressure,” said a delighted Luangnitikul, who was quick to pay tribute to his partner. “We weren’t thinking about the result, but she did wonderfully well to get those two birdies.” The Thai pair finished with a total score of 268, a single shot ahead of the American duo.
For 16-year-old Bathia – the only golfer to win back-to-back titles on the PGA Junior circuit this year - it meant he had to settle for a second silver medal at the YOG. Just as in the men’s individual competition, he saw his chances of gold evaporate at the death thanks to birdies from his opponents on the final two holes.
The American was generous in his acknowledgement of the Thai victors: “If you manage two birdies on the final two holes, you deserve to win the gold,” he admitted. “At one point I think we had a lead of seven shots. It takes a pretty strong performance to come back from that,” he added.
Urged on by the home crowd, Argentinian pair Mateo Fernández de Oliveira and Ela Anacona completed the podium with the bronze medal, after finishing five shots off the lead.
“I’ve never enjoyed a round of golf as much,” said Fernández de Oliveira. “The crowd got behind us throughout the day. It’s been one of the best tournaments I’ve ever played in.”