Spotlight on women after carrying Olympic torch

By Rex HoggardAugust 16, 2016, 6:52 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – At just over 5 feet tall, Victoria Lovelady was always a curious proponent for Brazil and golf’s return to the Olympics.

Carrying the hopes of an entire nation can be daunting, but Lovelady, who was born and still lives in Brazil, was thrust into the role of both ambassador and advocate in the months and weeks leading up to the Games.

One-by-one as the top male players opted out of the Olympics she found herself having to defend her home, having to explain that growing up in Rio mosquitos were a part of everyday life, not a reason to hide. That the construction delays and security concerns that dominated the headlines prior to the Games were not reasons to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

If her advice fell on deaf ears, with four out of the top five male players in the world ranking choosing not to compete in the Olympics, her vindication came on Sunday, as crowds swarmed the golf course to watch Justin Rose dramatically win golf’s first gold medal in 112 years.

Just like that, the 29-year-old was transformed from apologist to apostle.

“Everybody is surprised and really impressed with the whole organization and how everything is running so smoothly,” Lovelady said on Tuesday. “In Brazil sometimes we’re known for being a little chaotic when it comes to big crowds, but I’ve been really impressed with the amount of organization that we are seeing.”

Whether Lovelady finds her way to the podium on Saturday somehow seemed secondary as she enjoyed Brazil’s Olympic moment after so many distractions threatened to undermine golf’s return to the Games.

In a telling twist to the modern news cycle, some remain fixated on who didn’t make the trip to Rio. On Monday, world No. 1 Lydia Ko was asked about the men who, for various reasons, skipped the Games.

“I can't speak for somebody else. Everybody has their own decisions,” the New Zealander said. “But I think I'm pretty sure that they would have watched the games, watched how the guys are playing, and a lot of them would have said, ‘Hey, that's such a great vibe, I wish I was there, too.’”

VIDEO: Lovelady: Olympics 'a huge step for Brazil'

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Lost in that subtle take is the fact that the women enjoy no such distractions. Nine out of the top 10 in the Rolex World Ranking are in Rio, with Ha Na Jang the only exception and that’s because South Korea already has four players qualified (the maximum allowed) for the Olympics.

“For us, we’re all here,” Lovelady smiled.

By comparison, 21 men elected to skip the Olympics. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of timing and circumstances that the women are left to answer for those men who forfeited a possible trip to Rio.

Questions from media members still flummoxed by the decision of some top male players to not participate is one thing, yet many of the women, however unfairly, have been forced into the role of reluctant apologist to a broader audience.

“It was a little bit disappointing hearing from other sports, ‘Why didn’t they come?’ I don’t know, I don’t their reasons,” Paraguay’s Julieta Granada said. “We are here, we are embracing it. We’re doing the best we can. I think the guys will regret it.”

On this front, the women spoke with their actions. While world No. 1 Jason Day, No. 2 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Jordan Spieth and No. 5 Rory McIlroy decided Olympic golf in 2016 wasn’t for them, from the outset the Games were important to the women; more important than possibly contracting the Zika virus or security concerns or scheduling issues.

Ko never wavered, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen – who was a part of golf’s original bid to be in the Games seven years ago – is in the field, and the top Americans were all gladly fitted for their Olympic tracksuits.

“This is big, this is a bigger stage than we see week in and week out,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “I heard some guys talk about whether men’s golf needs this, I get that, but we come from all over the world and when you talk to them about the Olympics it’s different.”

Whan and the LPGA made it easy for the top players to choose Rio, building a three-week break into the schedule before and during the women’s competition for those bound for the Games, and made sure the media-driven hyperbole was balanced by facts.

“Regardless of who said they were coming,” Whan said, “40 to 45 of them were going to be LPGA players, so I found it difficult to go play another event and find that they’ve fallen behind [on the money list]. I didn’t want to compete with the Olympics. I wanted to put the light on the Olympics.”

Whatever the reasons for the almost universal support of the women’s commitment to Olympic golf – be it an altruistic love of sport or a bigger picture understanding of what this could do to grow women’s golf – the field assembled in Rio speaks volumes.

On Tuesday as she made her final preparations for this week’s event, Lovelady surveyed the scene with no small amount of pride.

After months of defending her home and her game she would be forgiven for taking a moment of self-indulgent satisfaction. Asked if she felt any vindication after last week’s finish Lovelady didn’t hesitate: “For sure.”

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Watch: Hahn slam-dunks ace on 11th hole

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:20 pm

There are aces, and there are slam-dunk aces. No question which one this one by James Hahn on the 154-yard 11th hole was.

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Els' nephew Rebula wins Amateur Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:05 pm

Ernie Els is one proud uncle.

His nephew, Jovan Rebula, won the Amateur Championship on Saturday at Royal Aberdeen to become the first South African to capture the title since Bobby Cole in 1966.

Rebula, a junior at Auburn, will join his famous uncle in Carnoustie next month for The Open. He also will get invites to the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Rebula defeated Ireland's Robin Dawson, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final.

"It’s unreal," Rebula said. "It’s really something that is hard to describe. I feel like many have been in this position before but it’s an unreal feeling. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet but hopefully tomorrow morning I can wake up and I will feel a little different."

Rebula received plenty of texts from Els throughout the week, and the encouragement paid off. Rebula opened a 1-up lead after 18 holes, and he extended his advantage by winning the 26th and 27th holes. He was 5 up with six to play before finally closing out Dawson on the 16th hole with an up-and-down from the bunker.

"It’s been a long week and especially today," Rebula said. "I should have finished maybe a couple of holes earlier, but it’s been awesome. A very tiring week. I’m standing here right now and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through me."

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Squirrel gets Rory's round off to a rocky start

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 6:42 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy’s third round at the Travelers Championship got off to a peculiar start before he even hit a shot.

McIlroy had just been introduced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands and was ready to unload on his opening drive of the day when a squirrel ran across the tee box a few feet in front of him.

McIlroy stopped his swing and laughed it off, but the squirrel continued to linger for several seconds, criss-crossing from one side of the packed tee box to the other. And while this was no black cat, the pump-fake to start his round didn’t exactly help the Ulsterman.

McIlroy ultimately blocked his drive into the right rough after enduring his brief rodent delay en route to an opening bogey, and amid soft conditions at TPC River Highlands he played his first five holes in 2 over. McIlroy started the day at 7 under, three shots behind leader Brian Harman.

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Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 5:29 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.

Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.

Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.

Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.

Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.

Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.