Lydia Ko Set To Challenge for Olympic Gold

In a historic first, world number one Lydia Ko will compete at the 2016 Olympic Games. In the sport’s return to the games, both men and women will compete at the Barra da Tijuca course in Rio de Janiero. On August 17, many of the top ranked golfers will be on hand, and with Lydia Ko set to challenge for Olympic gold, the competition will find itself on a new world stage.

The 19-year-old is the leading player on the professional women’s circuit. The Olympics will be her debut in representing her home nation, New Zealand. Over her short career, Ko has developed a reputation for coolness under pressure. After becoming the youngest ever player to win a Golf Major, Ko now has a desire to face a more emotive reward. With 14 LPGA Tour titles and two Major Championships, the Olympic Games is her next objective. Known as the ‘holy grail’ of sport, this challenge will see the young New Zealander tested to the highest level.

Along with being the best that you can be, the Olympic credo is “It is more important to participate than to win”. This motto has touched her and in the media, Ko is glowing of this emotive value. Joining the New Zealand Olympic team before the women’s competition begins, her reaction is refreshing:

“I think that we all are going to have a good time out there, and I think it’s great that us golfers can be amongst those amazing other athletes that are medalists. That’s the great thing about the Olympics. Sometimes in tournaments, we can get carried away about who came first in that event. But this week, it celebrates every single athlete. It especially celebrates all the medalists and shows how special a third place is.”

The perfect scene to celebrate success

Playing in the tournament at this games, Ko will face many familiar faces from the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour (LPGA) tour. As well, there will be players representing their home nations. Players from outside the top rankings, with very different motivating forces than Lydia Ko is used to. Very much different to the ladies professional circuit.

Here, individuals will play for the honour of their country, playing under their flag and representing the values of their people. The field will also include three amateur women, which shows the variety and breadth of challengers to Ko.

Ko will be challenged by 59 other women. For many, this will be their biggest stage of their careers.

The top 15 world-ranked players will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from a given country. Beyond the top 15, players will be eligible based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15

Representing New Zealand

Ko is proudly representing her home nation of New Zealand, the country where her parents immigrated to when she was just an infant. Becoming a citizen at age 12, she will carry the Silver Fern. Her coach David Leadbetter say’s the 19-year-old is primed to play.

“Lydia is really excited. She’s talked about it a lot. It will mean a little more than even a major. It’s not just for herself, but for her country. She’s gung ho. The fact she has a chance to win a gold medal.”

In the recently completed men’s competition, her fellow Kiwi professional golfers Danny Lee and Ryan Fox played commendable golf. Lee finished 33rd and Fox 44th. Great Britain’s Justin Rose became golf’s first Olympic champion since 1904, so he will be an inspiration for Ko to emulate.

Golf - Olympics: Day 9
Justin Rose of Great Britain plays his shot from the 16th tee during the final round of men’s golf on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty)

Busy schedule for women in 2016

Her goals for the upcoming tournament may be similar to how the young champion faces all of her competition. On a regular circuit, the goals are to ‘play well, enjoy herself and to build on her ever-improving golf game’. Usually facing her opponents for major prize money, in a matter of days they will face the world event and a new motivating factor: Gold.

A busy schedule has seen Ko and the world’s top players play on multiple continents. With the U.S. Women’s Open, Women’s British Open and next month’s Evian Championship, the Olympics competition sits in between three majors in a monumental two-month stretch. How the 19-year-old handles this stress, will go toward her building a longstanding legacy in golf’s history.

Lydia Ko to cChallenge the world at Olympics

Known for her bright smile and ability to both enjoy the moment and withstand huge pressure, Ko must be at the top of her game. In the most resent women’s major,the British Open, Ko allowed a large gap to form before mounting a late challenge. If she replicates at Rio, she could find herself ‘off the pace’.

All the competitors have an opportunity to shine. The sport’s re-emergence on the Olympic calendar is much more than ‘just a game’. The ladies will play for a reward, but they will fight to represent their fellow countrymen and women. In that way, they will all go out to perform to the best of their ability.

Showcasing women’s sport

In doing that, they are also showcasing the female players we know, and how they got here:

  • The best players will be showcased with the world watching
  • Women are emerging in droves as top golf athletes in some countries in particular
  • Golf is one of the world’s most watched and most successful sports, with male and female stars appealing to a wide fan base
  • The kudos of being an Olympian lasts a lifetime
  • Being an Olympian is widely regarded as the ultimate human endeavour

The women will play four full rounds of 18-hole golf leading up to the awarding of the very first women’s gold medal. It is a very difference challenge for Ko. How will she feel under this very different pressure?

World Number One Performance required

Ko has built a following and recognition whereby fans of golf admire her abilities and achievements at such a young age. 

During this tournament, she will adorn the national colours of New Zealand, wearing all black. Synonymous with the World Champion rugby team, the team uniform is one of many new experiences for Ko. Usually resplendent in colourful shirts adorned by sponsors’ names, the ‘basic approach’ might be fulfilling.  She will be staying in the Olympic village, away from the ‘glamour surrounds’ of the sponsor-ridden LPGA tour. Ko will rely on her skill, adaptability, and from an astute understanding of the game.

Ricoh Women's British Open - Day One
Lydia Ko looks down the 1st hole during the 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open (Getty)

Admired now by many more around the world for her attention to detail, fearless approach to challenging older, more experienced athletes. And for that irresistible smile. If Ko can bring all those attributes to the fore, than she has every chance of performing.

High expectations

The pressure of being the worlds best can play on some competitors abilities. In all World Champions, numerous example exist of failures at the Olympic Games. Valerie Adams is one example, even though she just returned from injury. The weight of pressure can do strange things to athletes. Those that can withstand that; think Usain Bolt or Katie Ledecky, reach the heights of stardom.

If any athlete has the pure skill and desire to perform, then Lydia Ko is one of those. Ko can be highly influential when on any golf course–if she get’s into a rhythm and is leading, then expect other players to fell the pressure. Her immediate competition maybe be fellow LPGA opponents  but the Olympics brings out the best in any person. It should bring out the best in the Swinging Skirts Tournament champion, and Ko would love nothing more than a medal ‘swinging around her neck’.

If she goes on to claim Gold, it will be heralded as one of the best performances from a World number one athlete. And at 19 years of age, she may have many more years to achieve her greatest dreams and goals.

Olympic competition

Lydia Ko will face a full roster of professional competition at Barra da Tijuca. Her LPGA rivals include Brooke Henderson (Canada), Stacey Lewis (USA), Inbee Park (South Korea), Charley Hull (GBR), Lexi Thompson (USA), Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand), Suzann Pettersen (Norway) and Chun In-gee (Sth Korea). Then there are the other highly-competitive women representing their nations proudly.

The Olympic draw has been made, and Ko will pair with Anna Nordqvist and Charley Hull. Teeing off at 11:09am, she will hope to go under par and to at least have a good Round One. In practice, she noted an afternoon wind which could be a concern. Fans of the Kiwi will hope that after the opening 18 holes, Lydia Ko can give the ‘double thumbs up’ and be well in contention.

It will come down to performance and how they compete against the Barra da Tijuca course. Purposely designed for the Olympic competition, built at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca. In the district that will contain the largest number of Olympic Games venues, the crowds may follow the Kiwi as much as they would on an LPGA course.

Of note, the women will play the par 71 from about 900 yards shorter than the men’s course (6,245 yards)

Ko must be in contention on Day Four to play for Gold

As with every tournament, the course will be the hardest opponent. If any advice should be heeded by Ko; and the other competitors, it will be “make way for the capybaras. The protected mammal was a popular ‘hazard’ at the men’s event–Kiwi Danny Lee might have advised Ko to ‘keep a wide berth’ of the wetlands animal, if she hopes to be in place to challenge for Gold on Day Four.

If anything can be guaranteed in sport, it is that nothing is guaranteed. Of course, being ranked number one is a key to self confidence. Going into any competition, if you are sure of your own ability, then you put yourself in the best position to maximize your chance of performing. Ko has achieved that, and it will bolster her chances.

On the world’s biggest stage, with Lydia Ko Set To Challenge for Olympic Gold, New Zealand fans will hope her extraordinary skill and staying ability puts her in position to claim the prize. Expect many flags to be flying if Ko is near the top-of-the-table on Day Four. She. like all the other 60 competitors will put everything on the line.

And the game of golf will be all the better for it. Good luck ladies.

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