Inbee Park of the Republic of Korea captured Asia’s first Olympic golf gold medal when she completed a remarkable recovery from injury to underline her status as one of the modern greats of the women’s game.
The 28-year-old from Seoul recorded her third 66 at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro to win the first women’s competition since 1900 by five shots from New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and by six from Shanshan Feng of China. Park finished on a 16-under-par total of 268 with scores of 66-66-70-66.
Park turned the final day in front of a sell-out crowd into an exhibition of brilliantly controlled golf, extending her lead from two strokes overnight into a commanding five-shot victory over world No.1 Ko, who rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole for a 69 and 273 total to claim the silver medal. Feng matched Ko’s closing score to take the bronze on 274.
However, with seven majors in her locker, there was no disputing her supreme talent, and Park delivered a masterclass in precision golf, accruing seven birdies – offset by two back-nine bogeys – in holding the opposition at arm’s length all day.
Russia’s Maria Verchenova broke the course record by carding a nine-under-par 62, assisted by a hole-in-one at the fourth, to climb 25 places into a tie for 18th at the conclusion of a highly successful return to the Olympic Games for women’s golf.
The new Olympic champion hugged her equally emotional three Korean team-mates after holing out for a regulation par five at the 18th and said. “This is definitely one of the special moments in my golfing career and in my whole life. It feels great. Obviously representing your country and winning the gold is so special. It's just really all I've wanted.”
Park’s triumph was all the more extraordinary for the fact that she has only played once competitively since June, the result of an on-going problem with her left thumb which curtailed her 2016 appearances to just ten starts on the LPGA Tour.
Kiwi Ko, still only a teenager and surely set to compete in Tokyo in four years’ time, fought hard to close the gap on the Korean, but ultimately Park’s advantage was seldom under threat.
She commented, “I didn't have a great start but I just tried to hang in there. I can't believe I'm holding a medal on the podium - it's what I've been dreaming about since 2009. To actually be there beside Inbee and Shanshan, is a dream come true. This has been just an amazing week.”
As a result of the women’s results, all six medals awarded in the two golf competitions were distributed among six different nations – Korea, New Zealand and China in the women’s competition and Great Britain (Justin Rose), Sweden (Henrik Stenson) and the United States (Matt Kuchar) in last week’s men’s contest.
After a hugely successful two weeks in Rio, Peter Dawson, President of the International Golf Federation, said, “We are delighted by the strong showing of golf during the Olympics. We were always confident that we would deliver high-quality men's and women's competitions and we have witnessed that over the last two weeks.
"Golf's success has been endorsed by strong viewing figures throughout the world and genuine interest from enthusiastic crowds in Rio. To see medallists crowned from six different nations is hugely gratifying.
"It is very important that we continue to be a supportive, contributing member of the Olympic family. We believe the values of our sport complement those of the Olympic movement and I am both hopeful and confident that we will continue to play our part beyond 2020."