There wasn’t much doubt about the outcome of the women’s event in Rio, because South Korea’s Inbee Park opened a big lead early and never let go. But we did learn how exciting it can be to watch the race for second and third when medals are at stake, something that doesn’t happen in regular stroke-play events the rest of the year. Here are five takeaways from the final round of the women’s competition:
1. Inbee Park rules. She was golf’s former No. 1 and not that long ago famously pursued the women’s Grand Slam but was a big question mark coming into Rio because she’d been out with an injured thumb and hadn’t competed since early July. All Park did was pull away early with a closing 66 and never let anyone else in the chase. How big is Olympic golf? Park, 28, has won seven major championships and will be a Hall of Fame inductee but said, “It was very special to represent South Korea. It’s a huge honor. This could be the highlight of my golfing career.” Park has hinted of retirement although after the ceremony said she has no immediate plans to do so. Still, if she does hang up her sticks, what an amazing way to bow out.
2. Second place doesn’t suck. In Rio, second place never sucked less. That much was obvious when New Zealand’s Lydia Ko got up-and-down on the final green to earn the silver medal. After holing a 10-foot putt to clinch second, a huge smile lit up her face. Wearing her medal later, Ko said, “We all won.”
3. The Americans pitched a shutout. No American women golfers medaled. Stacy Lewis came the closest. She finished fourth, one stroke back, and rued her birdie putt on the final green that she left just short. Gerina Piller fell back to 11th with a closing 74 and Lexi Thompson placed 19th after shooting 66. No sweeping statements about the state of American golf are necessary in the wake of the Olympics. Golf has long been a global game in women’s golf and the U.S. has its share of good players but is not a dominant force. Piller did a classy but tearful interview with NBC after her disappointing finish. “I’m just gonna work harder and keep going,” she said. Sounds like a future Olympic creed for everyone.
4. China’s star shined. China’s Shanshan Feng, 27, rode solid iron play and a hot putter to a closing 69 and the bronze medal. Feng, the first Chinese player to earn LPGA membership and the only player (men’s or women’s) from mainland China to win a major championship when she captured the 2012 LPGA Championship, was in line for the silver medal most of the back nine until Ko’s late charge bumped her back to bronze. The happy-go-lucky Feng three-putted for par from long range on the final green, leaving her 12-foot par putt short.
5. There’s golf in Russia, too. Maria Verchenova provided just the kind of Cinderella story the Olympics wanted. The 30-year-old Russian struggled the first three days, to say the least, and was well out of the running at five over par. The last round was a different story. She aced the 4th hole, piled up nine other birdies and shot a stunning 62 after pouring in an 18-foot putt on the final green. That’s nine under par — a course and Olympic record. Asked how she shot 62, she said, “I had a hole-in-one and many birdies. It just all clicked and I putted really good.” Verchenova was thrilled in the scoring area to learn she’d shot a course record and was allowed to take her scorecard home as a souvenir.