RIO DE JANEIRO – Inbee Park cemented her place in golf history long before she came to Brazil for the Olympics. It’s now complete after she became the first player since American Margaret Abbott in 1900 to win an Olympic gold medal.
“This is definitely one of the special moments in my golfing career and in my whole life,” South Korea’s Park said. “It feels great. Obviously winning the gold, representing your country, it’s so special. It’s just really all I’ve wanted.”
Park, 28, a seven-time major champion, took the gold with an almost flawless performance over four days. It was all the more admirable considering that she was returning from a career-threatening injured left thumb that had kept her out for most of the summer.
Her closing 5-under round was her third 66 of the week. She began the first two rounds with 66s before adding a 70 in Round 3. Her 16-under total matched Justin Rose’s winning total in last week’s men’s tournament and gave her a five-shot win over New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, with China’s Shanshan Feng taking bronze at 10 under.
“Obviously my putter just worked so well this week,” Park said. “That was really the key to the gold medal.”
Park hadn’t played an LPGA event since the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June, during which she missed the cut. She was scheduled to play in the UL International Crown but had to withdraw from that event, too. Her only preparation for Rio was a Korean LPGA tournament two weeks before the Olympics, but she also missed the cut.
Her injury was such that Park came close to giving up her spot. It was just as well that she didn’t.
“I fought through injury, and so I’m proud of myself,” Park said. “This is something I’ve really been dreaming about. Representing your country in the Olympic Games and getting a medal, it’s such a special feeling.
“There were so many Korean people out here supporting me. It almost felt like we were in Korea. Seeing how much support I had this week, I’m just happy that I finished well. This is definitely a big relief.”
Ko holed a 7-foot birdie putt on the final green for a closing 2-under 69 to take the silver and avoid a playoff with Feng to settle the final two medals.
“I knew that there were so many girls that were packed at the top of the leaderboard, so you just never knew,” Ko said. “I didn’t have a great start, but I just tried to hang in there. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about since 2009. To actually be there besides Inbee and Shanshan, I think this is a dream come true.”
Feng missed out on the silver medal when she failed to birdie the last hole. She three-putted from just off the green and had to settle for bronze.
The day belonged to Park, though. Although she arrived in Rio with seven major titles, 10 other LPGA victories and more than $13 million in earnings, her Olympian performance will go down as the defining moment of her career.