Golf’s return to the Olympics after 112 years hasn’t quite been a happy one. Despite a host of other sports vying for the two slots that were available for new entrants in the 2016 Rio Olympics, golf made the cut along with rugby. However, a series of pull-outs by the world’s top players has raised questions about the presence of the sport in the Games.The top four male golfers — Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — have all controversially decided not to take part in the mega event, citing the fear of Zika virus, taking away the sheen off the sport’s return to the Olympics. People were quick to jump to criticism the withdrawals, with the Rio Olympics organising committee president Carlos Nuzman saying golfers were pulling out due to lack of prize money, and not the virus threat.Under these circumstances, golf might not be the most talked about sport when it gets underway at the newly-built Reserva de Marapendi course from August 11-14. With the absence of the top players, the United States’ Bubba Watson and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson will be hot favourites to clinch the gold medal. The two are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the field of 60 players at the Games.
Lahiri leads India challenge
The lack of buzz around the sport notwithstanding, three Indians will be looking to make the most of their Olympian tag in Rio.Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia, the top two ranked Indian golfers at 62 and 211, respectively, will hope to put on a solid show and come back richer by the Olympic experience. Lahiri and Chawrasia made the cut for Rio have been placed and 19th and 44th, respectively, in International Golf Federation’s (IGF) rankings for the Olympics.Of the two, it will undoubtedly be Lahiri who has the ability and experience to spring a surprise in terms of a podium finish. The 29-year-old is currently the top-ranked Asian golfer in the world, and has seven Asian Tour titles under his belt apart from his two victories on the European Tour, both coming in 2015 (Malaysian Open and Indian Open).Last year, Lahiri finished tied fifth at the PGA Championship in Kohlier, which was the first time an Indian golfer ended in the top-five of a Major. A couple of months later, the Bengaluru man created more history by becoming the first Indian to be part of the International Team at the Presidents Cup.Lahiri’s hasn’t quite had the same run of form this year, having missed the cut at this year’s PGA Championship in New Jersey on Saturday, but he sure has the experience on his side to step up when it matters. Add to that, he knows what it takes to win a medal at a multi-nation event, having clinched a silver with the Indian team in the 2006 Doha Asian Games.”Olympian Anirban Lahiri sounds good, but Olympic medalist Anirban Lahiri would sound way better,” Lahiri said after clinching the Olympic spot.The other male Indian in fray, Chawrasia, will go into the Games with better form to show than Lahiri. He trumped the latter to win the Indian Open earlier this year, a victory that went a long way in helping the 38-year-old clinch the Olympic spot.”I feel it’s an opportunity for me to give something back to the country,” the man from Kolkata said.
Aditi, young and happening
However, the most celebrated story of the country’s golf contingent for the Games is a young girl called Aditi Ashok. The 18-year-old, who turned professional only at the start of this year, has seen a phenomenal rise in her career already.Her sense of maturity defies her age, for she started thinking about an Olympic berth way back in 2013. She tactfully chose the tournaments that she wanted to play in in order to improve her world amateur ranking. The girl from Bengaluru, thus, broke into the top 60 in the rankings even before she played her first professional tournament.While to expect a medal from her might be too far-fetched at this stage of her career, Aditi certainly won’t be a pushover. The young girl would not be overawed by the magnanimity of the Games, having taken part in the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 in Nanjing. Apart from the Youth Games, She was the only Indian golfer to have played the Asian Youth Games in 2013 as well as the Asian Games in 2014.Thus, while Aditi might be the youngest competitor among the 60-strong field in the women’s competition, one can bet that she will come back a more mature golfer.
INDIA’S GOLF CONTINGENT
Anirban Lahiri Men’s
SSP Chawrasia Men’s
Aditi Ashok Women’s
112 – No. of years after which golf will be making a return to the Olympics
DID YOU KNOW?
The last time golf featured in the Olympics, which was in 1904, Canada’s George Lyon beat American H Chandler Egan in a 36-hole final. Lyon was also awarded the 1908 gold medal in London but declined it because no other players showed up