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Who to watch for the women's Olympic event? Here are nine players and storylines

Written by 
Published in Golf
Tuesday, 27 July 2021 04:34

Sixty female golfers can forever call themselves Olympians, but only three players by the end of next week will be able to call themselves Olympic medalists. Here are a few notable players who could earn that honor.

-1-

Nelly and Jessica Korda

The dream-team sisters are back in formation, ready to rep the red, white and blue in Tokyo, Japan. Jessica earned her sixth LPGA victory in January, winning the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions (including an 11-under 60 in Round 3) and Nelly won her first major this year, the KPMG Women’s PGA (one of three titles this year), to become world. No. 1.

“Once an Olympian, you’re always going to be an Olympian,” Jessica said last week. Her sister chimed in, “I just know it’d be a dream and to feel that rush through your entire body would be pretty cool, too. It’s super nice to have Jess there and this experience we’ll share together.”

Will their Amundi Evian Championship preparation – Nelly finished T-19 and Jessica T-38 – prove to be successful as the sisters battle for gold? Will the Kordas dominate the field and both earn medals? The sisters will compete alongside Americans Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang, who opted out of the Evian to prepare for the 2021 Games.

-2-

The 2016 Returning Medalists

Can Inbee Park become the first golfer to win back-to-back gold medals? Gold meant everything to her in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. “It was the roughest year of my entire career,” Park said. “I struggled mentally and technically was desperate to accomplish something. Having won the Olympic gold is priceless to me.”

Ko, then 19, became New Zealand's youngest individual female medalist in 2016 and is coming into this Olympics hot, with a T-6 finish at the Evian. “I’ve always felt very proud to be able to fly the New Zealand flag and to have the opportunity to represent New Zealand on a stage where all the best athletes are competing is a huge honor,” Ko said.

Bronze medalist Shanshan Feng hasn’t competed since she missed the cut at the Women’s PGA in late June. It was the same week she also hinted at retirement. “My plan is up to the Olympics. I don't know what I’m going to do after it. I might come back, I might not. We’ll see,” Feng told Golf Channel at the KPMG. Feng has competed on the LPGA Tour for 13 years and has 10 wins and one major title. In 2017, she became the first player from China, male or female, to become world No. 1 and held the position for 23 weeks. Why not cap out an incredible professional golf career with a gold medal?

-3-

A determined Gabby Lopez

Gabby Lopez is the most successful female golfer to come out of Mexico since Lorena Ochoa and will make her second Olympic appearance in Japan. There is something about the  Olympics that stands out for Lopez more than most players - it means everything to her.

“That’s my ultimate goal, being able to peak at that week,” Lopez said about the Games. “That’s what my schedule is going to be played around, being rested, being prepared, in time to play well that week.”

Lopez chose not to play in the Evian Championship after being asked by the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee over a year ago to carry the flag for Mexico during the opening ceremony in Tokyo.

“To just inspire little girls and [for them to] see what a golfer and little girl can do to achieve their dreams, that’s going to be why I play golf and that’s what it means to me and my life and my career,” Lopez told Golf Channel’s Amy Rogers.

After a T-31 in Rio in 2016, will Lopez step up and show the world what women’s golf in Mexico is made of?

-4-

Home country advantage (?) for Nasa Hataoka and Mone Inami

Nothing involves more pressure and excitement than playing the Olympic Games in your home country, and Nasa Hataoka and Mone Inami will experience an adrenaline rush unique to Japanese athletes this week.

“As for the gold, of course it’s very, very, very hard to get with all the international players and other players there,” said Hataoka after her win at the Marathon Classic three weeks ago. “I’m really, really going to work hard to represent all the Japanese golfers that couldn’t make it to the tournament and go for the gold.”

Much like it will be for Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and Rikuya Hoshino, who is hitting the opening shot in the men's competition, Hataoka and Inami will be under intense scrutiny, but a medal will make them heroes.

-5-

Cinderella Story Matilda Castren

Matilda Castren, and LPGA rookie from last year, earned her first victory at the LPGA Mediheal Championship, becoming the first Finnish player to win on tour. “I knew one day it would be me, but I didn’t think it was going to be so soon,” said an emotional Castren on the 18th green after her final-round 65.

She moved 87 spots up the Rolex Rankings and cracked the top 100 for the first time in her career. Now, she’s headed to the Olympics as the top Finnish player representing her country in Japan. “I was just watching some videos from the Olympic Village and it just looks so cool,” said Castren during the Evian Championship, where she placed T-19. “But I'm very, very excited. It's a huge honor to represent Finland, and I know it's going to be a lot of fun.”

“Dreams really do come true, don't they?” Castren was asked minutes later.

“Yeah, seems like it,” she replied. “It’s been an amazing year.”

Castern is one of nine Olympians mentioned here who standout in their pursuit of a gold medal. But there are 51 others who also have dreams of standing on the podium. Here is a guide for how to watch the women compete, which begins Tuesday, August 3.

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