One year later: Olympic course defies the odds

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2017, 4:00 pm

Each morning on his way to work Marcio Galvão drives by the vacant sports arenas in Rio’s Olympic Park and the 3,600 empty apartments in the boarded-up Olympic Village.

Like most Brazilians who expected so much more from the 2016 Olympic Games, the first held in South America, it makes Galvão’s heart sink.

“It’s a disaster, a disaster,” he says. “From a Brazilian perspective, it’s a shame, because it’s a kind of incompetence from the governance.”

It also serves as a daily reckoning of how crucial Galvão’s job is, not just to golf in Brazil but to the ultimate legacy of the ’16 Games.

Those who know him call Galvão a “serious guy,” although the 67-year-old’s infectious smile and quick laugh suggest otherwise. In July, he took the job as CEO of the Rio Olympic Golf Course with what he calls an “ambition-driven approach,” which he explains is a concept born from a lifetime in the world of finance.

Full golf coverage from the Rio Olympic Games

Simply put, Galvão’s plan for the build-it-and-they-will come Olympic layout is to “create a dream and ambition that’s sustainable.” It’s a lofty goal by any standard, but particularly in Rio where the government declared a state of financial emergency in 2016 and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison last month.

But for Galvão failure truly isn’t an option, not with such absolute consequences.

“When the Olympic Games ended we made an effort with the company that developed the course. At that time it was very simple, if we close one week we would lose $20 million,” he says, explaining that if maintenance at the Gil Hanse-designed layout stops for a week the financial reality is that the cash-strapped consortium that now runs the complex wouldn’t be able to bring it back to anything close to playable conditions.

Perhaps more importantly, golf in Brazil would lose what former Brazilian Golf Confederation president Paulo Pacheco called a “gift from God.”

One year ago, not long after the echoes of the closing ceremony at Maracanã Stadium had drifted into the mountains, the Rio course was turned over to the country’s golf confederation. The turmoil that followed was both painful and predictable.

An Agence France-Presse report last November described a layout overgrown with natural vegetation and nearly devoid of players. But as the anniversary of that historic hand-over passes it appears the rumors of the layout’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

“The visions of an Olympic course that was going to be overgrown and left to waste didn’t occur. There seems to be a genuine desire to create white elephants when the Olympics are over,” says Mark Lawrie, the R&A’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In April, when Lawrie returned to the Rio course, he found a much different reality. Although he admits the volume of play hasn’t been what officials hoped for, the course itself remains playable with conditions Galvão contends are better than what the world’s best competed on for medals a year ago.

“It’s one of the great legacies that has come from the Games,” says AntonyScanlon, the executive director of the International Golf Federation, which oversees golf in the Olympics. “I know the Brazilian Olympic Committee is proud and trying to change the wrong message from December that the course was closed and a white elephant. We’re seeing some regular use of the course and regular maintenance of the course and it’s becoming a great story from the Games, and who would have thought that when you figured the five-, six-year build that we had and the humps we had leading up to that.”

Even more encouraging, Galvão has a 10-year plan to not just keep the course financially viable but to fulfill the lofty legacy of becoming a beacon for golf in a country that has just 9,202 registered golfers and 120 courses.

Currently, the course averages about 700 rounds a month, a number Galvão hopes to double by the end of the year. The plan is for some of that growth to come from tourism, with about 15 percent of the current play coming from foreigners.

Hoggard: One year later: Olympics give golf global spark

The remainder of that growth will be homegrown via an ambitious green-grass plan that begins in elementary school.

“We have to implement the golf legacy from the Games. We need to increase the number of golfers through social inclusion,” Galvão says. “It’s important to have a partnership between the public and the private school to bring kids to the course.”

Every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon, Galvão and his staff offer free lessons to new players, both children and adults, on the Rio course practice range. Players graduate to the small four-hole course from there. Galvão says those clinics are currently fully booked, a sign, however anecdotal, that despite the public perception of golf being only for the elite, there is at least a passing interest in the game.

Galvão is also creating what he calls a golf scholarship program, which he envisions expanding to 300 juniors via funding from corporate donations. Like many things in Rio, it’s a barter concept – sponsor a junior’s membership in exchange for a corporate membership at what is Rio’s only public course.

Along those same inclusive lines, the plan is to create a technical school to help train young adults for a career in the golf industry by allowing them to work at the Olympic course.

“In Brazil it is very important to create this atmosphere of golf not being an elite sport. It’s to help make more inclusion,” Galvão says.

Galvão’s optimism is contagious and he’s confident his plan, which he will present to the IGF and R&A later this month, is a rare mix of financial responsibility and social activism, but the challenges he and his staff face can’t be ignored. He sees them every morning on his drive to work.

Green fees for foreigners at the Olympic course are about $150, a reasonable sum for a tourist to play the same course where Justin Rose won a gold medal, but resident rates range from about $75 on the weekend to $50 on a weekday, which are both outrageous sums for a country where the average monthly salary is $678.

“I would say a little bit,” Galvão concedes when asked if those green fees might be too expensive.

But with no chance of financial support from the government, at this point the optimist in Galvão defers to the businessman. Fulfilling its role as a catalyst to grow the game in Rio will always be the course’s primary legacy. But to do that officials must keep the doors open and the grass cut.

“We are very proud. Two years ago nobody believed that golf would succeed in the Games. Nobody believed that the golf course would continue to be open to the public. So, we had success during the Games, from public, from marketing, every aspect; and we’re very proud that we kept the golf course open,” he says. “We’ll make this happen, no doubt. It will take some work, of course, but we’ll make it happen.”

Galvão sees the painful alternative far too often as he drives around Rio in the deserted and decaying venues from last year’s Games, but failure at the Olympic course is not an option.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”