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.

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”


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Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.