The longest wait between a final putt and the next tee shot will finally end at 07.30 on Thursday morning at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
Golf will return to the Olympic Games, after an absence of 112 years between the gold medal-winning putt sunk by Canada’s George Lyon in St.Louis in 1904 and the historic moment when a proud Adilson da Silva from Brazil hits the opening tee shot of Rio 2016.
Let no-one be in any doubt – the quest for the glitter of Olympic gold has captured the imagination of 60 of the world’s best professionals as they launch their challenge to win the first Olympic title in over a century.
By Thursday evening, all 60 will be entitled to call themselves Olympians after the first 18 of the 72-hole stroke-play competition which will herald the dawn of a new Olympic era for the sport of golf. The pride bursting from competitors sporting the colours of their own countries is impossible to ignore.
One by one, the major champions of the game have queued up to admit that they have been bowled over by the colossal scale of the Olympic Games – and all are inspired by the event to re-double their efforts to win one of those prestigious medals.
Henrik Stenson, the Swede who delivered a powerhouse performance of his own at Royal Troon last month to win The Open, is in no doubt that just being in town this week already helped to put golf onto the global map, with a potential television audience of 3.6 billion.
“I think it (the Olympics) has already grown the game,” said Stenson. “It’s going to be viewed on the world stage, and that’s going to be a different thing then for the young players who are now 14-year -old and sitting back home watching us.
“I never saw my golfing heroes play in the Olympics, but you’re going to have youngsters in different parts of the world watching us play on television. They are most likely going to dream about being here one day in the future. I think it certainly will grow the game, and it already has.”
Kaymer, who attended the Opening Ceremony, said: “When you see the other athletes, how much work that they put into this week, and the love that they have for their sport, it’s a completely different approach of playing your sport right now. You gain so much respect for the other athletes and you see your sport a little bit different, too.
“I don’t know how different yet, because it will take a couple weeks to realise what really happened here, but it’s so far already the greatest week of my career.
The field assembled for the first men’s Olympic golf competition since 1904 features six major winners, including two of the 2016 champions in Stenson and Danny Willett of Great Britain.
Such quality has prompted two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson, to declare that “a medal of any colour” would be a “thrill of a lifetime” and would hang next to his two green jackets.
With 41 nations represented, including Bangladesh’s first ever professional golfer, Siddikur Rahmann – who carried the Bangladesh flag with huge pride in Friday’s Opening Ceremony – the sport has clearly embraced the Olympic ideal.
“This has been the most fun I have had for a long time,” Willett said after considering the novel sensation of preparing to play golf for a medal.
The 60 entrants in the men’s event compete over four rounds of stroke-play, with no cut. The Gil Hanse-designed test, built for the purpose, has received consistent praise. Open off the tee, the links-style set-up will be reliant on wind and its tight, tricky greens to bring the best out of the best.
“I’m expecting it to be a great success no matter what. I don’t see why it shouldn’t,” said Sergio Garcia of Spain, who has loved the experience of being in Rio along with compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello.
No more waiting. No more speculation. After 112 years – and seven since golf was re-admitted into the movement – the talking stops and the action takes over. Let the Games begin….
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