RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Lydia Ko could hear the cheers as she played the Olympic Golf Course, only they weren’t for her.
Not yet, anyway.
The No. 1 player in women’s golf played five holes about the time Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were battling to the very end for the sport’s first Olympic medals in 112 years. She did make it to the 18th green in time to see the medals, and she got a photo with Rose and his gold.
“Hopefully, his vibes came off to me,” she said Monday.
Now it’s the women’s turn.
Even as the men were finishing up the final round, the women were allowed to resume preparations for the start of their event Wednesday. Ko didn’t even wait that long. She was on the course in the morning to watch fellow her fellow Kiwi golfers, Danny Lee and Ryan Fox.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been such a huge fan,” she said. “Normally, I love my sleep. Yesterday, I slept a little less. I told them both, ‘I don’t think I ever woke up at 7 a.m. to watch someone else play.’”
Ko is the favorite, as she is most weeks on the LPGA Tour. She already has won four times this year, including her second major at the ANA Inspiration in California, and she was runner-up to Brooke Henderson of Canada in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
What’s special about this week is playing for the flag, which she has never done as a professional.
Ko is not eligible for the Solheim Cup, which is for Americans and Europeans. New Zealand does not have the depth to form a team for the International Crown, which was the closest event golf had to the Olympics before the Olympics came along.
There is no team component to golf in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, so this week really is no different. It just feels that way.
“Even though there I’m the only New Zealand woman golfer in this week, I think it’s not more about our sport, but just every other athlete and every other athlete from New Zealand,” Ko said. “I do feel that team vibe. I heard that some of the athletes might come out and watch me play, and I think even more then I’ll be super excited to see the Silver Fern and see all the logos.”
It’s a quick turnaround for the women. The competition starts Wednesday so the Olympics can conclude ahead of Sunday’s closing ceremony. Some of the men were able to take part in the opening ceremony and spent the early part of the week going to other events.
Ko chose not to be part of the opening ceremony and didn’t arrive until Saturday because she thought a week in Rio would be too much. She also is not staying in the athletes village, though she did eat there over the weekend.
“Just to be in the team vibe, wear the uniform, go out yesterday and watch the guys play, it’s been really great so far,” she said. “And it’s only going to go up.”
This is the second time in three years that the women have played on the same course a week after the men. The U.S. Open staged the men and women at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014, and the USGA pulled it off exceptionally well. The course played shorter, but the women still were hitting roughly the same shots into green.
Ko is expecting the same from what little she has seen of the Olympic Golf Course.
“I’m pretty sure I do not hit a 9-iron at the same place Bubba Watson is hitting a 9-iron,” she said.