RIO DE JANEIRO – Maria Verchenova felt great all four days this week at the Olympics. She’d been eating properly, meditating like usual, and preparing for each round just as she has for years while playing all around the globe.
The final round felt no different for Russia’s best player.
Verchenova, 30, posted a smooth 4-under 32 on her first nine holes (she began her round on the 10th hole) and knew that she was on her way to something special. Even she didn’t realize how special it would be.
After making birdie on two of the first three holes on the final nine, Verchenova calmly took a swipe with a 6-iron on 153-yard par-3 fourth hole and the ball found the bottom of the hole for her first ever ace in competition. That moved her to 8 under for the day.
After a bogey and two more birdies, including one at the last hole, Verchenova signed for a course-record 9-under 62. She moved up 26 spots on the day and tied for 15th place.
“Me being here and playing here, it means a lot, because that’s going to push Russian golf forward and that’s what we need,” Verchenova said. “Russian golf is kind of steady now. It needs to be pushed forward.”
That was the main message Verchenova kept pushing afterward. It wasn’t about her game, her experience for the week, or who she spent time with in the athlete’s village; It was about how much her performance should help raise the profile of the game in Russia.
“Maybe kids see me on TV, and maybe they say, ‘oh, I want to play golf as well,’” she said.
Speaking of her homeland, 10 days before the Games began Verchenova didn’t even know if she would be eligible because of a wide-ranging doping scandal that banned many of her countrymen. She was in Houston practicing before the Olympics started and still didn’t have clarity on her situation until the last minute.
“I was like, I’ll just keep practicing, doing my stuff and see how it comes over,” she said.