Inbee Park of the Republic of Korea captured Asia’s first Olympic golf gold medal when she completed a remarkable recovery from injury to underline her status as one of the modern greats of the women’s game.
The 28-year-old from Seoul recorded her third sublime 66 at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro to win the first women’s competition since 1900 by five shots from New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and by six from Shanshan Feng of China. Park finished on a 16-under-par total of 268 with scores of 66-66-70-66.
Park turned the final day in front of a sell-out crowd into a stunning exhibition of brilliantly controlled golf, extending her lead from two strokes overnight into a commanding five-shot victory over world No.1 Ko, who rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole for a 69 and 273 total to claim the silver medal. Feng matched Ko’s closing score to take the bronze on 274.
Just for good measure, Russia’s Maria Verchenova smashed the course record by firing a nine-under-par 62, assisted by a hole-in-one at the fourth, to climb 25 places into a tie for 18th at the conclusion of a highly successful return to the Olympic Games for women’s golf.
As a result of today’s outcome, it means that all six medals awarded in the two golf competitions have been distributed among six different nations – Korea, New Zealand and China in the women’s competition and Great Britain (Justin Rose), Sweden (Henrik Stenson) and the United States (Matt Kuchar) in last week’s men’s contest.
The new Olympic champion hugged her equally emotional three Korean team-mates after holing out for a regulation par five at the 18th hole and said: “This is definitely one of the special moments in my golfing career and in my whole life. It feels great. Obviously representing your country and winning the gold is so special. It’s just really all I’ve wanted.”
Park’s triumph was all the more extraordinary for the fact that she has only played once competitively since June, the result of an on-going problem with her left thumb which curtailed her 2016 appearances to just 10 starts on the LPGA Tour.
However, with seven majors in her locker, there was no disputing her supreme talent, and Park delivered a masterclass in precision golf, accruing seven birdies – offset by two back-nine bogeys – in holding the opposition at arm’s length all day.
She added: “This is something I’ve really been dreaming of coming into the week. There were so many Korean people out here supporting me and it almost felt like we were in Korea. Seeing how much support I had this week, I’m just happy that I finished well. This is definitely a big relief.”
Kiwi Ko, still only a teenager and surely set to compete in Tokyo in four years’ time, fought hard to close the gap on the Korean, but ultimately Park’s advantage was seldom under threat.
She commented: “I didn’t have a great start, but I just tried to hang in there. I can’t believe I’m holding a medal on the podium – it’s what I’ve been dreaming about since 2009. To actually be there beside Inbee and Shanshan, is a dream come true. This has been just an amazing week.”
Ko knew that she had to get up and down from greenside to avoid a play-off for silver and bronze with Feng, and did so brilliantly. She laughed: “My celebration was as if I won the gold! It’s pretty cool.”
Quotes of the Day – Round 4
Inbee Park 268 (66, 66, 70, 66) On how she rates becoming Olympic champion: “I think definitely at the top because you know, this is something I’ve never done before. I’ve won majors, but I haven’t won a gold medal, so this feels definitely very, very special and nothing I want to change. It’s a special week and special feeling, and I’m so honoured to represent my country. Being able to receive the gold medal on the golf course was an unforgettable moment.”
Lydia Ko 273 (69, 70, 65, 69): Lydia Ko On other New Zealand athletes coming out to support her Sunday: “That was one of the greatest things that I was really excited about this week was that I was able to meet other New Zealand athletes and see some that I had met before like Eric (Murray, gold medal rower). We’ve done a sponsor thing before. And to see him out here and come out and support me, I think has been amazing. That’s been one of the greatest memories of this week is to see the other New Zealand athletes, see the New Zealand flag out there and them waving and shouting and supporting. It’s been amazing.”
Shanshan Feng 274 (70, 67, 68, 69): “Well, of course, China is a very strong country in the Olympics, and we’ve made so many gold, silver, bronze medals. So my bronze medal maybe doesn’t mean that much for the whole number, but to myself it means a lot, because this is golf back in the Olympics after over a hundred years, and I believe it’s the first time that a Chinese athlete is competing in this event.”
Charley Hull 276 (68, 66, 74, 68): “My first Olympics was a fantastic experience and I got a good buzz off it. I thought it was great. I felt happy with my performance but it’s a shame I couldn’t come away with a medal.”
Gerina Piller 278 (69, 67, 68, 74): “The crowds were awesome today. I didn’t know what to expect. There are a lot of people that come to the Olympics that don’t really know much about golf. It was pretty impressive that all the people came out.”
Maria Verchenova 280 (75, 70, 73, 62): “I think the whole thing is just me being here and playing here, it means a lot, because that’s going to push Russian golf forward, and that’s what we need, because Russian golf is kind of steady now; it needs to be pushed forward.”
Lexi Thompson 281 (68, 71, 76, 66): “I’ve had more messages and more texts from people that don’t really watch golf. My parents have gotten messages from people that they haven’t heard from in years, and they are watching golf just because it’s part of the Olympics. I hope this made a mark for us, and hopefully, we’ll be in the Olympics for years to come.”
Leona Maguire 282 (74, 65, 74, 69): “It’s been a fantastic week. Obviously going to some of the sport events at the start of the week was great. Got to see Michael Phelps’ last race and then being able to be in the first group here is something I’ll never forget on the first morning. And obviously this has been streamed all around the world, so I think it’s great for ladies golf in general.”
Aditi Ashok 291 (68, 68, 79, 76): “My Facebook page and Twitter has been going off quite a lot. I’m happy that a lot of people who didn’t really watch golf are watching golf now (in India). It’s only going to get better from here.”
Miriam Nagl 298 (79, 77, 72, 70): “I think it’s obviously making a huge difference that the Brazilians are coming out and supporting as much as they did this week and last week. I hope it’s going to make a difference. I think it’s a big step to make it big in Brazil.”
Victoria Lovelady 300 (79, 75, 76, 70): “The whole experience was amazing – arriving here, going to the Village, going to the Opening Ceremony, seeing my dad in the Opening Ceremony by coincidence, crying with him, singing the anthem, walking through the village with all the athletes, seeing Bolt, taking a selfie with Bolt, seeing Nadal. Everything was amazing.”