In common with much of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in particular, there is a touch of flamboyance and the exotic about Victoria Lovelady.
Born Victoria Alimonda in the vibrant 2016 Olympic city, she now carries the surname of her American husband. She sparkles with vitality and good humour, and apart from being a talented professional golfer, she is a mean guitarist and singer who even penned her own Olympic song a few months ago.
Lovelady is one of two Brazilian women golfers who will tee up at Reserva de Marependi Golf Course on August 17 (the other in Miriam Nagl), and she admits that excitement over Rio2016 is now reaching fever pitch in the city where she grew up.
And she is certain that the Brazilian culture will win over the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Rio and the billions glued to their television sets. It’s in the DNA of the Cariocas.
“Yes, definitely,” she asserts. “If we Brazilians know anything, it is how to host sports events and to party. It’s in our blood. People coming to Brazil discover there is a always a little surprise factor. I tell everyone that Brazilians know how to have a good time. In a crisis, we like to have a party!”
Lovelady just squeezed into the Olympic field, after missing out on automatic qualification. However, when some National Olympic Committees opted not to put forward their golfers to attend the Olympic Games, her name was restored to the top 60.
Although now resident in Sao Paulo, her family has enjoyed close connections with Rio. She said: “My great grandfather was one of the founding members of Itanhanga Golf Club and my dad got me started in golf when I was 12. I always followed him in trying sports, so I said I wanted to try golf, too.
“Golf has brought a lot into my life. In the beginning I was able to win events locally and I loved the competition. I went to the United States to play high school golf and told my parents I wanted to stay there. I was living with my godmother in California when I earned a scholarship to play for University of Southern California (USC) and we won the national championships when I studied there. Once I saw the possibilities in golf in the U.S. I knew that is what I wanted to do.”
Lovelady believes Rio is ready for its grand opening, despite some obstacles along the way. She added: “I was back in Rio almost a month ago and there is a sense of excitement. I have seen the contructions finish and the media is giving the Games more attention, people are getting excited and talking about getting their tickets. The city is going to be ready.”
She certainly believes the golf course is ready to host a remarkable party of its own, irrespective of the happenings on Copacabana, Ipanema and the Maracana. Lovelady took part in the official Test Event alongside eight other Brazilian male and female golfers in March, and revelled in the experience.
“The course really surprised me. I was very impressed” she insists. “I knew we had problems in the beginning with the legislation so I didn’t know what to expect. However I did know that the course was in good hands with Gil Hanse, who is such a great designer. It was an amazing experience to play it.
“I actually walked the course last November when it was inaugurated by the City with the Mayor. I think it’s very challenging – the angles of the greens, the tee shots and especially the landing areas because there is no rough, just former waste land which is now an environmentally protected area.”
She added: “The greens are small and undulating and I knew it was going to be so tough. I think the quality of grass they used is perfect. The way the ball responded on the greens and fairways, the grass just tees up the ball and it’s a great feeling to hit off that surface. I was excited over every shot I hit.
“With the greens and the angles, the course is really fair and rewards your good shots. I thought, with the course being new, I wouldn’t have that type of response but it was great. It was harmonious, it was challenging. You had to think of landing areas and there are holes that encourage you to attack.”
Lovelady pinpointed two holes in particular which caught her eye, the par four 13th and 16th. She continued: “The 13th is a dog-leg right where you can cut through the trees on the right but not too much. I did that and lost my ball. I was two under at that stage in the Test Event. The other is 16th, a short par four and the long hitters can go for the green but the chip afterwards can be challenging. It was awesome. I really enjoyed it.
“I would say No.13 is probably the signature hole because the green is really challenging. It’s not an easy approach and the green is so undulating. I also liked the par three fourth. It’s a cool hole.”
Lovelady is praying that as many people as possible come to watch the Olympic golf competitions in person, as well as follow the action on TV. And in the future, she fervently hopes that Rio de Janeiro will have a public golf course to attract a new generation of golfer.
She said: “One of the great things is that someone who is curious to grab a club and a golf ball is going to have access to this. It is a huge first step. The surrounding areas of the course is residential, with high rise buildings. I feel if I was a kid living in one of those buildings and I looked down from on high and saw a golf course that I could go and have access to, I would be really excited. I would be saying; hey mom, hey dad, I want to try that.
“In Brazil we are really good in sport. I often see first swings from beginners that are pretty impressive. I really hope they do golf programmes with local high schools to bring the kids into the game for the first time. Now you can rent clubs and I believe it will be a big boost for the sport in our country.”
Despite her local connections, Lovelady won’t be staying privately with family or friends. She insisted: “I am staying in the Village. I want the full experience. How cool is that? To be with the athletes is so much fun. The girls have been asking me about the course and I tell them it’s so much fun to play and very exciting, but that Rio the city will be, too.”
Perhaps she might serenade her fellow golfers in the evenings…with a rendition of Girl from Ipanema, surely?