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Home Sport Golf makes triumphant return at Rio Games after 112-year Olympic hiatus

Golf makes triumphant return at Rio Games after 112-year Olympic hiatus

Lorie Kane is one of Canada’s most accomplished golfers ever.  

A four-time winner on the LPGA circuit, she’s won more than $7 million US over the course of her career and she’s still competing and succeeding on the senior “Legends” tour.

But from Orlando, Fla., with all of competition on hold because of the pandemic, she can only reflect on golf’s place in the grand scheme of things.

“I’m sorry that I missed my opportunity to be in the Olympics,” Kane, a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, shrugged.  

“But I think it should have been in the Games a long, long, time ago. I think of the Olympics as sport for the masses and I believe that golf has become a sport of the masses. Based on what I experienced playing at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, I was jealous that I wasn’t able to go to the Olympics and see what golf was going to be like on that scale. From my perspective, anytime you can be a part of Team Canada is fantastic.”

This Saturday, May 16, is the ninth of several weeks of programming at CBC Sports which will showcase some of the most memorable moments from various editions of the Olympics, both winter and summer. 

Episode No. 9 of Olympic Games Replay features the return of golf to the Olympic program for both men and women for the first time since the 1904 Games in St. Louis.

WATCH | Canadian golfers proud to represent nation in Rio:

Canadian golfers were excited for their sport’s return to the Olympics after a 112-year hiatus. 0:51

At Rio 2016, 120 competitors representing 34 nations teed it up at the Olympic golf course at Barra da Tijuca on the outskirts of the massive South American city.

The women had not taken part at the Olympics since 1900 in Paris when 10 players wearing the colours of the United States and France played a mere nine holes and American Margaret Abbott emerged to claim the gold medal.

In St. Louis four years later, the men’s field was much larger, boasting 75 golfers all hailing from the United States with the exception of three Canadians.

A 46-year-old amateur from the Lambton Golf and Country Club in Toronto by the name of George S. Lyon prevailed and thus Canada entered the Rio Games as the reigning Olympic golf champion.

“The bottom line is that golf being in the Olympics will give every child who starts the sport a new dream,” said Mike Harris, a CPGA professional golfer and Olympic silver medallist in curling from the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games. Harris did radio commentary in Rio for on-site spectators and could understand the impact Olympic inclusion would have on golf going forward.

Canadian George S. Lyon, above, was the reigning Olympic golf champion prior to Rio 2016, having won the gold medal the last time the sport was played at the Olympic level at St. Louis in 1904. (Lambton Golf and Country Club)

“We have already seen in curling that today’s athletes now believe that representing their country is the pinnacle of the sport. I am certain that golf will experience a similar rise and athletes who started golf over the past three years will certainly have an Olympic ambition. We know that golf being opened up to a whole new audience is definitely a good thing.”

Before the Rio Games, the threat of the mosquito-born Zika virus caused concern and thus some of the top men’s players elected not to travel to Brazil to take part. But the field boasted major champions such as Justin Rose of England, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Sergio Garcia of Spain, and Bubba Watson of the United States.

‘Golf is a great fit for the Olympics’

On the Canadian side, David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., wore the red and white.

“As golfers we don’t have too many opportunities to represent our home countries,” DeLaet said. “I mean, it’s the Olympics — it’s huge. It’s an experience I’ll never forget and it’s definitely something young Canadians will be striving for.”

DeLaet was close to the lead after a 5-under 66 first round and ended up finishing 20th in the tournament.

For his part, David Hearn shot 66 in his final round to finish at 1-under and tied for 30th. He revelled in the Olympic environment and took a global view of the opportunity that he never imagined getting when he began playing the game.

“Not only do I have so much pride to be an Olympian but I feel I learned so much,” Hearn enthused.

Members of the 2016 Canadian Olympic golf team, left to right, Graham DeLaet, Alena Sharp and David Hearn pose with the 1904 Olympic Golf Trophy, won by George S. Lyon, seen prior to the Rio Games at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 17, 2016. Fourth team member Brooke Henderson was unable to attend the event. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“And I learned from so many different athletes that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I gained some incredible perspective on sports and life. Golf is a great fit for the Olympics. It’s an individual sport in nature, however I would love to see the Olympics try to incorporate a team element to the competition sometime down the road. It could be an exciting idea.”

Exciting is a perfect word to describe the final round as Great Britain’s Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, battled with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, the reigning British Open champion, to the wire with Rose claiming the gold medal and Stenson settling for silver.

There was also a late charge from American Matt Kuchar who shot a stellar 63 on the final day to capture bronze.

“I recall Kuchar saying he’d never been so happy to finish third in his life,” Harris said. “So it goes at the Olympics. Win a medal or bust.”

Henderson, Sharp ‘part of history’

In women’s play, most of the top golfers showed up — including Inbee Park of South Korea, a winner of seven majors on the LPGA tour by that point in time. Lydia Ko, the 19-year-old of New Zealand, was also there and she already had 14 LPGA wins under her belt including back-to-back victories at the Canadian women’s open. The first of which came as a 15-year-old. 

Canadians were excited by the appearance of 18-year-old phenomenon Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., who had just captured the women’s PGA championship in June of 2016. Henderson entered the tournament as one of the favourites and shot a sizzling 64 in the second round to stay in contention only to wind up seventh.

WATCH | Brooke Henderson discusses uniqueness of Olympic golf:

Brooke Henderson, the winningest pro golfer in Canadian history, says the Olympics is unlike any other event that she’s participated in. 1:56

The other Canadian was Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ont., who was thrilled at the chance to play golf in Brazil. I remember introducing the team at the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey just before the trip to Rio and being impressed by Sharp’s delight at being part of golf’s Olympic renaissance.

She compiled a four-round total of 285 in Rio and finished midway through the pack in 30th place. Still, four years after the fact, Sharp’s memories of Olympic golf are only positive.

“I sometimes forget that I was part of history being able to represent Canada with Brooke at the Olympics,” Sharp said via email. “It’s something that young golfers will see when they look back at those Games. I feel like a role model and a mentor and I relish that role.”

When all was said and done, Inbee Park controlled the tournament throughout and won the gold medal with Lydia Ko finishing as the runner up. The bronze medallist, Shanshan Feng, hailed from China.

When you combine those results with the podium representation on the men’s side, athletes from six different nations and four continents won medals: Great Britain, Sweden, United States, South Korea, New Zealand and China.

Golf’s return to the Games had proven itself to be a truly international affair.

“Yes, some areas of the world will have golf grow because of the Olympics,” Lorie Kane concluded with a smile on the Zoom interview we had the other day.

“But it is already a global sport and it’s so great to see our sport’s best players wanting to understand what the Olympic movement is all about.”       

The ninth edition of Olympic Games Replay features five hours of golf competition from the Rio 2016 Games including the men’s and women’s final rounds. On Saturday, May 16 at 1 p.m. ET, it will be streamed on CBCSports.ca as well as air across the CBC television network. Check local listings for the time in your region.

Looking ahead, Episode No. 10 of Olympic Games Replay airs Saturday, May 23, and will reflect on great Olympic and Paralympic moments from the 1990s.

Great Canadian champions like sprinter Donovan Bailey, rower Marnie McBean, speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, and wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc will be featured in the showcase-style broadcast.

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