With little more than four months until the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, United States Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Lindsey Vonn have thrown their weight behind golf’s inclusion in the Games and given professional golfers a taste of what to expect in August.
The pair were brimming with enthusiasm about golf being an Olympic sport as a means of growing the game globally as Franklin joined golfers Shanshan Feng, Sandra Gal, International Golf Federation Executive Director Anthony Scanlon and Olympic course designer Amy Alcott on stage at a press conference on the eve of the first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where Vonn was also speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Missy Franklin (above centre), a star of London 2012, where she won five medals in total, said: “It’s amazing what being in an Olympics can do and I think it will help golf reach so many more people, which is really the main goal of the Olympics: to inspire and reach out. For golf to be there, it’s going to be amazing for the new generation to see golf in a way they’ve never seen it before. It’s going to be so special for all these athletes, for all the hard work they’ve put in, to be able to show it on a stage like the Olympics. I’m so excited for them and excited for golf.”
Vonn, the Olympic downhill skiing champion at Vancouver 2010, where she also won a Bronze in the Super-G, was equally enthusiastic. She said: “I think the Olympics showcase any sport and to finally have golf in the Olympics again is going to be incredible, especially for women’s golf. Men’s golf is so popular everywhere but women’s golf has a lot more room to grow and I think the Olympics will be an amazing platform for that. I’m excited to see how it goes and I think the athletes are extremely excited. I’m looking forward to watching them. I’m a fan of women’s golf. It’s a growing sport and there are a lot of stars and its fun to watch.”
Franklin shared her experiences of winning Olympic gold, before China’s Feng and Gal, from Germany, expressed their own excitement. Franklin commented: “Standing on the podium, watching your flag go up, hearing your national anthem, and knowing that you’ve accomplished something not only for yourself but also for your team and country, it’s truly an incredible feeling to have.”
Feng said: “Listening to Missy, I’ve been visualizing how I will react if I’m in the same position. I think I will cry, not because I’m sad but I’m so happy, not only for myself but also my country. China is not one of the strongest countries for golf but when we see that there are more golfers in China, once the sport becomes more popular, we have a lot of people, so watch out… the Chinese are coming!”
Gal said: “I find it hard to talk about. It would be an extreme honor not only to make your country proud but also your team and showing all the work that you’ve put in. I’m excited about experiencing such a huge, world class event.”
LPGA World Golf Hall of Fame member Amy Alcott, who, together with Gil Hanse, designed the new Reserva da Marapendi course in Rio, which hosted the Olympic Test Event in early March, explained the vision for the course to be playable for all types of player, from the elite female and male players to the beginner.
“We wanted to make this a course that would put the women into the same hitting areas and hitting the same shots that the guys would play. The front nine will probably play a little longer, a little bit tougher,” Alcott said. “The course is 7200 yards and we’re hoping that it plays firm and fast designed as a links golf course. The closing holes will be a little bit shorter and give people a chance to catch up. The challenge was to have the bunkers in play the same way for the women as they were for the men and not to favor a certain type of player.”
IGF Executive Director Antony Scanlon said that the recent Test Event amplified the enthusiasm of the players. “Three weeks ago we had a Test Event in Rio and the excitement among the Brazilian players participating became infectious. The golf course was fantastic, a credit to Amy and Gil. Rio is a great place for a party and a great place for an Olympic event. Golf is back in the Olympics and it’s going to be great to watch.”