Golf

Coral Springs’ Lexi Thompson realizes Olympic dream

“I am definitely going. Anytime I can represent my country, I will be there. Especially the Olympics because it only happens once every four years,” said Lexi Thompson.
“I am definitely going. Anytime I can represent my country, I will be there. Especially the Olympics because it only happens once every four years,” said Lexi Thompson. AP

The dream for Lexi Thompson has gone from nonexistent, to possible, to probable and, finally, on Monday, to definite.

Monday was the day that Thompson, who has wandered South Florida golf courses for most of her life, was named an Olympian by being selected to the U.S. women’s team.

Thompson, who grew up and still lives in Coral Springs and is the fourth-ranked women’s golfer in the world at age 21, was exuberant as she confirmed, “I am definitely going. Anytime I can represent my country, I will be there. Especially the Olympics because it only happens once every four years.”

Thompson said she will not change her mind because of the numerous problems — the Zika virus, security, venues still not ready, the threat of crime, etc. — surrounding this year’s Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. “I know there are some concerns,” she said, “but I’m leaving it up to the Olympic Committee and my management team to keep us safe and get us ready for the week.”

Of course, Thompson will take some precautions on her own. “I mean, I plan on wearing long sleeves and pants,” she said of avoiding the mosquito-carried Zika virus, “but I’m sure the Olympic Committee will have us very well-prepared, especially with golf being outside.”

Thompson, who has career earnings of $5,265,017 and $732,219 in 2016, never dreamed of being an Olympian because golf had not been an Olympic sport since 1904, a not-so- brief pause of some 112 years. While growing up, Thompson, who played in the U.S. Women’s Open at age 12, just assumed there was no possibility or hope of becoming an Olympian.

That all changes this year.

Three players qualified for the U.S. women’s team as Stacy Lewis (No. 9 in the world) and Gerina Piller (No. 15) will join Thompson. Just missing was another South Floridian, No. 21 Cristie Kerr, who grew up in Miami and competed quite successfully at No. 1 on the boys’ team at Miami Sunset High because there was no high school girls’ golf team at the time.

For both men and women in the mid-August event, the top 15 world-ranked players qualify for the 60-player fields, with one caveat — no country is allowed more than four competitors. There will be no team competition, just gold, silver and bronze medals for the top three men and women.

Unlike the women, with their enthusiasm to compete in the Olympics, the men’s competition has become marred by numerous players dropping out, most often citing the Zika virus as the reason.

The no-shows would include the two top U.S. players, No. 2-ranked Dustin Johnson and No. 3 Jordan Spieth. That means the U.S. team will be led by No. 5 Bubba Watson and No. 7 Rickie Fowler. Moving in as replacements for Johnson and Spieth will be No. 13 Patrick Reed and No. 15 Matt Kuchar.

Explained Johnson, “After much careful consideration and discussion with both my family and my team, I have made the decision to withdraw from the 2016 Olympic Games. My concerns about the Zika virus,” which can cause serious birth defects, “can’t be ignored.”

In addition to Johnson and Spieth not playing, various other international stars — Australia’s Jason Day (No. 1) and Adam Scott (No. 8), and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (No. 4) — also say they are staying home. Other well-known and eligible players choosing not to compete include Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh.

Spieth’s withdrawal announcement was made by International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson and left this year’s male competition lacking the top four in the world and with only four of the top 10 competing. In contrast, the women will have their top nine competing, and the only reason it is not all 10 is that Korea had already reached the maximum of four players allowed.

The lack of quality on the men’s side sets up a distinct possibility that golf’s appearance as an Olympic sport might be a brief one. There will be a vote after the Rio games about whether golf should be kept beyond Tokyo in 2020.

“It hurts,” Dawson said of the disappointing men’s field.

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