Golf: Nanjing athletes usher in stylish Olympic comeback
Golf made its much anticipated return to the Olympic programme in Nanjing, 108 years after its last appearance and two years before the stars of the game go for gold in Rio. The talented teenagers who took to the course at the Zhongshan International Golf Club produced plenty of thrills in both the individual strokeplay competitions and the all-new mixed team event.
Gil scores a first
Sixteen-year-old Canadian Tony Gil made history at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games when he became the first person to hit a hole-in-one in an Olympic golfing competition.
Gil, whose home course is the Eagle’s Nest Golf Club in Ontario, achieved the feat with a seven iron at the par-three third hole at the Zhongshan International Golf Club, though it was not until he reached the green that he realised what he had done.
Aside from his hole-in-one, Gil hit four birdies and three bogeys en route to a three-under par 69, which left him tied for fifth place behind joint leaders Marcus Kinhult (SWE) and Brett Coletta (AUS), who both shot rounds of 66.
Paratore makes gilt-edged comeback
Opening with a par round of 72, Italy’s Renato Paratore found himself six shots behind the leaders on the first day of the men’s competition, though a second-round 67 allowed him to move up to joint fifth. At that stage Norway’s Viktor Hovland led the field on eight under, ahead of Thailand’s Danthai Boonma and first-round leaders Kinhult and Coletta.
However, Paratore clinched the gold medal his with an exceptional final round of 66, sinking a succession of long putts to bag five birdies on the back nine.
“It’s absolutely amazing. I can’t believe it,” said the promising 18-year-old from Rome. “I was really focused and started hitting my shots again. I got my confidence back in the second round and I played really well in the last round, especially over the last nine holes.”
Paratore finished two shots clear of Kinhult on 11 under, with Boonma taking third after beating Viktor Hovland (NOR) in a play-off for the bronze.
Lee fulfils golden destiny
The women’s gold went to the impressive Lee Soyoung of the Republic of Korea, a traditional powerhouse of women’s golf. Lee had already played on the LPGA Tour and the Ladies' European Tour in 2014 and she clinched the YOG title thanks to rounds of 69, 68 and 65 for a 14-under-par total of 202.
Encouraged to take up golf by her father, Lee was just 10 when she decided to take the game seriously and devote her efforts to building a career in the game.
“My dad and me realised I could be a golfer,” she said. “I put in a lot of time and effort to be a professional.” As her performance in Nanjing showed, she is on the right path.
“I am really thrilled that golf is back as an Olympic sport, and I am really happy to be the first Olympic champion,” she added.
“When I was young I used to dream of playing in the Asian Games, not the Olympics. So I’ll be fulfilling my dreams when I finally compete in the Asian Games next month.”
Chinese Taipei’s Cheng Ssu-Chia finished three shots behind Lee to take the silver, while the bronze went to Thailand’s Supamas Sangchan, who finished on seven under.
Team joy for Sweden
Proving popular with players and the galleries, the groundbreaking three-day mixed team event served up lots of exciting action and a tense finale, as Swedish pair Marcus Kinhult and Linnea Strom claimed gold after the second play-off hole.
The competition began with fourballs, in which each member of the two-person teams played their own ball, with the best score on each hole counting towards their overall scorecard.
Next came the foursomes, a format in which each pair plays a single ball, with partners taking alternate shots.
Rounding off the event were 18 holes of individual strokeplay, with both players’ scores counting to their team’s overall total.
“I would happily play more of this. It is not often you get to play with a boy, it has been very fun,” said Strom. As Denmark’s team coach Peter Thomsen explained, the rarely-seen foursomes threw up something very special: “The best nine holes of golf I have ever seen.”
Thomsen was referring to his charges John Paul Pultz Pinnerup Axelsen and Emily Kristine Pedersen, who carded seven under for the outward nine, an amazing feat in a format that is regarded as the most difficult in golf.
“We just flowed. I enjoyed it so much. I suppose you always do when you play that good,” said Pultz Pinnerup Axelsen.
“We saw this as an opportunity to try something different – the three different formats combining together, Ryder Cup-style,” explained Antony Scanlon, President of the International Golf Federation.
Team events are something of a rarity in professional golf, and Thomsen feels that the pioneering format in Nanjing has a real part to play.
“I think golf misses the team thing,” he reflected. “What makes football so interesting is the team aspect. Competitions like this will help make golf the people’s game.”
Mixed gender events are even rarer, and players and coaches were united in their belief that there should be more of them on the calendar, with gold medallist Strom saying: “I would love the pro tour to have events like this. It would be a dream.”
Partnering compatriot Youm Eun Ho, Lee took silver, with Paratore and fellow Italian Virginia Elena Carta completing the podium, proof if it were needed that this entertaining format also allows the best golfers to shine through, which was a further endorsement for a successful new event.