OAKVILLE, Ont.— Canada has held the Olympic gold medal for more than a century, and now four of the country’s best golfers are preparing to head to Rio as the sport returns to the games.
WATCH: Brooke Henderson named to Canadian Olympic team; says it’s been something she’s dreamed of since she was young
The women’s team consists of 18-year old phenom Brooke Henderson, the No. 2-ranked female in golf from Smiths Falls, and Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ont.
The group were introduced at Glen Abbey Golf Club today, the site of this year’s RBC Canadian Open.
Golf last appeared in the Olympics in 1904, when Canadian George S. Lyon won the gold medal. He was set to defend when the games next went to London, but they were canceled at the last minute. The women last played in the Olympics in 1900.
WATCH BELOW: David Hearn ‘can’t wait’ to tee off for gold in Rio
That’s not to say the reinstatement of golf as an Olympic sport hasn’t been without its challenges. Initially the biggest names in the sport were expected to attend, but many of golf’s biggest male stars—World No. 1 Jason Day, U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth—all announced they would not be representing their countries, with most citing scheduling issues and concerns with the Zika virus. McIlroy went as far as to say he wouldn’t even be watching Olympic golf.
Henderson, who participated in the introduction of the team yesterday from Calgary, where she was holding a junior clinic, said the reintroduction of golf as an Olympic sport was “huge for Canada.” There’s little doubt the teenager, who has quickly become recognized as one of the best golfers on the planet, is a legitimate medal threat for Canada in Rio.
DeLaet defended the strength of the field, and there’s no doubt a number of big stars will be in Rio. British Open winner Henrik Stenson is heading to Brazil, as is U.S. star Bubba Watson and Spain’s Sergio Garcia. Several of the male golfers heading to Brazil are at Glen Abbey this week, including the United States’ Matt Kuchar, Germany’s Alex Cejka, New Zealand’s Danny Lee, and Brazil’s Emiliano Grillo.
WATCH BELOW: Graham DeLaet talks having former NHLer Ray Whitney caddie in Rio
Hearn, who has two young children, said he looked carefully at the situation in Rio and weighed his options, but ultimately decided it was too big an opportunity to pass on.
“You’ve got to respect the personal decisions that the guys have made not to go to the Olympics this year,” Hearn said. “My family is 100 per cent behind me. They think it is an incredible opportunity and thrill to represent your country at the Olympics.”
“Honour” is a word tossed around by all four golfers, who said they were happy to go to Rio despite so many golfers skipping the tournament. Few female golfers, incidentally, have elected to skip the games.
All four golfers will face a course they’ve never played on and only seen in photos. It was designed specifically for the Olympics and is akin to the seaside links courses found in Scotland and Ireland.
WATCH BELOW: Alena Sharp ‘honoured’ to represent Hamilton in Rio
DeLaet said he didn’t expect that to be a problem.
“We do this week in and week out,” he says. “We get down there, you see the golf course, you get a game plan and you stick with it.”