21 Aug 2016
Minjee Lee and Su Oh will take away different memories from golf’s return to the Rio Olympics, but one they’ll share is being part of an Inbee Park clinic for the ages.
The Aussie pair at various stages each looked realistic hopes to snatch a bronze medal on an entertaining closing day at Barra de Tijuca, only to squander back-nine chances.
But regardless of their results, they’d have been playing for silver when Korean Park turned on a putting master class en route to the historic gold medal.
Park shot a closing 66, featuring seven birdies, to finish at 16 under, five clear of world No.1 Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, with China’s Shanshan Feng a shot further back taking bronze.
For much of the final afternoon, it appeared nine under might make a playoff for bronze until Ko clicked into gear.
So when Lee reached seven under after three birdies in four holes from 12-15, it seemed the West Australian would ride the wave to at least that figure with three “gettable” holes to close.
But short birdie tries lipped out on both the 16th and 17th to leave her rueing what might have been after she closed with a birdie for a 67 and a creditable tie for seventh at eight under.
After flat bogeys on two of the first four holes today, the six-birdie salvo was testament to Lee’s fighting spirit.
“I’m pretty happy with the result, especially after the first nine I was pretty far back,” she said.
“But I’m glad I could make a couple of birdies coming in and good one on the last to finish on good note.
“I probably could have made those putts on 16 and 17. But that’s golf – you’re not going to win all of them.
“But I feel good, like I’ve done Australia proud.”
Oh, who also began the day at four under, went damage free through the front nine with just one birdie, a kick-in after a spectacular approach to the long fifth.
But the Victorian leapt into medal contention with great birdies on the 10th and 11th holes and when she escaped the tough 12th unscathed, suddenly had high hopes.
That was until her ball came to rest in a terrible position in the back left bunker on the 13th from where she bladed a shot into a bunker across the green, then eventually made a good 2.5m putt to save a double-bogey that took the wind from her sails in a hurry.
“I was playing really well, didn’t do anything bad and just hit one bad shot into a really bad place that I couldn’t recover from,” Oh lamented after making bogey up 14 to compound the problem before a closing birdie to ease the burden.
“It was the wrong time really. It could have happened on Thursday and I’d have finished in the same place, but it just means more at that time and place.
“That was just the one place you couldn’t really go … and I went there.”
Oh eventually signed for a 70 to leave her tied 13th at five under par.
Both 20-year-olds were full of praise for the Olympic experience and expressed a hope they’ll be in similarly good form in four years when the Games move to Tokyo.
“Normally you play and move on to the next week, but this is all you’ve got. It’s different, I first thought play like another tournament, but it’s not; it’s the Olympics and it’s a special tournament,” Oh said.
“I wanted to do my best because it’s not just another week. It doesn’t come every week.
“When I had that (bad) hole and it’s not like me to get emotional, but I knew I was out of it. I wanted to finish strong and make the best of it.
“But the week overall is unforgettable – that I can call myself an Olympian is quite special. I’m already looking forward to the next one in Tokyo if I can get there again.”
The normally unflappable Lee conceded there was more pressure than a “normal” week on tour.
“You want to medal. You’re always playing for your country, but here you’re really playing for your country. It was such an honour,” she said.
“You always play for Australia, but here you’re really playing for Australia – it’s a different sort of pressure, but it feels good, playing for your whole country.”
Park, 28, has missed much of the LPGA Tour with a thumb injury, but played like she’d never missed a beat.
The seven-time major champion was a cut above the field and only made one real blemish with a drive into the water on the 10th costing her one of just two bogeys.
But whenever she needed to make a stand, the 28-year-old simply dialled up the putter and rammed it home to keep the chasers at bay.
Feng had looked the likely silver medallist all afternoon, but played holes 12-17 one over while others, notably Ko, advanced.
The Chinese ace three-putted from the fringe of the par-five 18th green to take a par, then watched as Ko got up and down from the edge of the fairway to birdie and relegate her to bronze.
Russia’s Maria Verchenova had two great talking points of the round with a hole-in-one on the fourth en route to a course-record 62 that left her at four under overall.