For the first time in 112 years, golf is being played at the Summer Olympics.
A field of 60 players is set to tee off in four rounds of stroke play Thursday though Sunday that will decide the first Olympic gold medalist in golf since Canada’s George Lyon won at Glen Echo Golf Club in St. Louis in 1904.
And while the game’s four highest ranked men’s players — Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — decided not to play, a solid field has gathered to test the new Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
No. 5 Henrik Stenson of Sweden, this year’s British Open champion, is the highest- ranked player in the field, but the four golfers representing the United States are all ranked in the top 20. Bubba Watson heads that list at No. 6, followed by No. 8 Rickie Fowler, No. 14 Patrick Reed and No. 20 Matt Kuchar.
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While the other three Americans arrived Monday after playing in last week’s PGA Tour event, Fowler has been in Rio since last week.
“I grew up watching the Olympics every four years, and even the Winter Olympics,” Fowler told reporters in Rio. “But it was never a dream I was able to have. I always thought it was the pinnacle of everyone’s sport. ... It was kind of a dream come true that I wasn’t able to dream about before.”
He enjoyed being part of the Opening Ceremonies and meeting out with other U.S. athletes, including swimmer Michael Phelps and NBA stars who are members of the U.S. men’s basketball team.
“What (the Olympics) stands for and seeing how much it means to the other athletes here, it seems like a pretty amazing event,” Fowler said. “I didn’t want to miss out on it.”
Fowler chose to live in the Olympic Village while in Rio and he has been seen wearing a red shirt, blue hat and American-flag Pumas.
“Words really can’t describe it,” Fowler said. “I’m trying to make some of my other buddies that stayed home as jealous as possible. They’re definitely missing out.”
Watson said participating in the Olympics is something he thought of growing up.
“I was always dreamed about what other sports could I make the Olympics in it,” Watson said. “Because how cool and what a privilege it is to represent your country.”
Reed said he is glad to be following in the footsteps of Olympic athletes he has only been able to see on TV in the past.
“Growing up, of course everyone has watched Phelps,” Reed said. “What he has done is outstanding. Also grew up and I remember watching speed skating a little bit. It was just so fast. At that point it was Apolo Ono. It was crazy how fast they can race and turn on the ice. They make it look so easy, too. It’s actually very hard.”
The winner of the tournament will get an automatic spot in each of golf’s four majors next year as well as a gold medal to add to the total of his country.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to play for a gold medal,” Reed said. “Having that opportunity just heightens everything.”
Although it is an individual competition, Kuchar will be cheering for his fellow U.S. players to do well.
“I think that’s the nature of the golf,” Kuchar said. “You certainly pull for your friends. When you got teammates you pull for them. It is an individual game. We’ll all be shooting for gold. You certainly hope if it’s not yourself, it’s one of your teammates.”
Tom Smith: 816-234-4240