Troon, Scotland: Asia’s leading golf stars can’t wait to get to Rio de Janeiro next month when the sport makes a long-awaited return into the Olympic Games programme.
Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat epitomized the privilege and honour of representing a nation by putting the Olympics ahead of plans to start a family after getting married several months ago.
A total of 16 Asian golfers, including reigning Asian Tour number one Anirban Lahiri of India, Thai veteran star Thongchai Jaidee, Bangladeshi Siddikur Rahman, Filipino Miguel Tabuena and Malaysia’s Danny Chia, will be amongst those looking forward to the trip and being a part of golf’s return following a lapse of 112 years.
Kiradech, Asia’s number one in 2013, said: “I’m very excited about the Olympics. It’s going to be a proud moment. Winning the gold in Olympics is more than everything to me. If you win the Masters, people will know you’re a Major winner but if you win at the Olympics, no one will forget it.”
The world number 53, who missed the halfway cut at The Open, did not delve into the recent controversy led by the withdrawals of some of the game’s top players who have cited the threat of the Zika virus.
“I’ know there’s a big issue there. But I’ve talked to Thongchai about this and I just got married and we’re planning to have a kid. So it’s not the right time to have a child at the moment and we look forward to starting a family next year,” said Kiradech.
“The last two months, my wife has always supported me. She wants me to play and represent my country. It’s not easy to be a part of the Olympics. If the chance comes, you have to take it.”
Thailand has won seven gold medals in the summer Olympics via boxing and weightlifting and Kiradech is not discounting either him or Thongchai adding to the nation’s tally in Rio.
“Thailand has won seven gold medals. If we can be the eighth golf medalist, how cool will that be? Every event we play, we have a chance,” said the 26-year-old.
“If we win, it can help golf come up fast in Asia. It can push the new generation to work harder and be like us. I believe if we can get a medal, it will be good for Thailand and Asia.”
At 46, countryman Thongchai, the only man to win three Asian Tour Order of Merit titles, never thought he would have the opportunity to be an Olympian.
“In my life, I never thought golf would be played in the Olympics. I’m 47 this year and I’m looking forward to representing my country. It’s a proud moment in my career and it’s going to be amazing. I don’t mind the threat of the Zika virus. You have to protect yourself and look after yourself. I’ve done all my required jabs,” said the world number 38, who recently won the French Open.
Lahiri is hoping to show that Indian sports is equally famous for producing top golfers as India’s nine gold-medal haul at the Olympic Games has been contributed largely by the men’s field hockey team winning eight gold medals.
“The goal obviously will be to get there and try to get a medal or two, if both SSP (Chawrasia) and I can play well. That should have a big impact on golf in India and Asia. It’s going to make a big difference,” he said.
He hoped that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will keep golf in the programme beyond 2020 following the publicity led by withdrawals of higher ranked players.
“It’s unfortunate. There’s been a lot of speculation. It’s sad not to see some of the best players playing. So that’s disappointing for golf after making a comeback after more than 100 years. Hopefully the event will be a big success. Hopefully all the glitter and glamour is not lost,” he said.
Lahiri has made plans to join the Indian contingent in marching out during the opening ceremony in Rio. “I’m super excited. It’ll be a very proud moment for me. SSP and I will be there for the opening ceremony and you can’t buy that experience,” said the 29-year-old.
“There’s nothing that compares to that feeling. You’re part of something that is bigger than yourself.”