Road To The Olympic Games

Golf·Preview

Canadian golfers Henderson, Sharp, playing for more than Olympic medals

Canada's Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp are relishing their Olympic experience. And while both are hoping to land on the podium, golf's Olympic return is also a showcase for the calibre of women's golf.

'It's a much bigger stage,' says Henderson on Olympics

Canadians Brooke Henderson is a medal favourite at the Rio 2016 as golf makes its Olympic return after 116 years. (Andrew Boyers/Reuters)

By Nick Murray, CBC Sports

Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson says this week's golf tournament at the Rio Olympics could very well be a sixth major on the LPGA tour.

On a stage larger than any other in her young career, the 18-year-old is relishing her Olympic experience even before she's tees off at 9:14 a.m. ET Wednesday morning.

"It really is amazing. I've always admired Olympians and how much passion, desire, and hard work they put into their sport," Henderson said.

"So to now become and Olympian is really amazing and I'm just trying to make the most of this experience. It's such an amazing opportunity, but at the same time I have a job to do."

Canadian teammate Alena Sharp, an 11-year LPGA tour veteran, says she too is thrilled to be at the Games.

"When I was growing up, I'd always watch the Olympics and because I'm a golfer I didn't think I'd get a chance to represent Canada AT the Olympics. To be here is just a dream come true, really."

'It's a much bigger stage'

While Henderson and Sharp aim to capture Canada's first women's Olympic golf medal, the Olympic stage itself is proving to be a window to showcase the talents of women's golf.

"For the men's game, there's so much money involved, and maybe in some ways the Olympics is lost on some of those guys, but it certainly isn't for the females," Canadian women's golf coach Tristan Mullally said.

"They realize what an opportunity it is for them to be on a global scale and represent their country in a way that isn't afforded to them in the same way."

Despite the number of high-profile dropouts from the men's tournament, the women's field is much more refined with the top nine female golfers in the world all accounted for.

In fact, the only players in the Top 30 who aren't competing, didn't qualify because of Olympic roster caps on their home countries. Every country was only allowed to send two golfers, but in some cases could send four as long as the extra two players were ranked within the Top 15 in the world.

A perfect example is the South Korean team, which could very well sweep the podium. Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim, Amy Lang, and In Gee Chun are all ranked in the top nine in the world. But world No. 10 Ha-Na Jang, also South Korean, didn't qualify because of the roster cap.

"It's on a much bigger stage just because of the other athletes and everything that's going on around us. But at the end of the day it's just another round of golf and it's kind of like a sixth major on the LPGA tour and that's kind of how I want to look at it," Henderson said.

"It's a week I definitely want to peak for. It's amazing."

Windy course

Adding to the top field is a world-class course — the same course shared by the PGA pros just last week. Though the men played it at 7,128 yards, the women will compete at 6,245 yards. Both are played at a par-71.

"It's unusual they're playing the same golf course. So when the men and the women are playing back to back I think it will show just how good [the women] really are," Mullally said.

Virtually every golfer who's been asked about the course have all said the same thing: it's windy, and it's going to have a big impact on how players navigate the course.

Before his round, American Rickie Fowler said shooting par on the course "would be nice," and that's exactly what the world No. 8 shot over four rounds, despite a low-round 64 on Day 3. Justin Rose won gold at 16-under par through four rounds.

"I really like it. I think it suits my game," Sharp said after playing a practice round Monday.

"I think if you can shoot four-under every day, you're going to have a chance. It depends on the wind. I could see somewhere around 12-under [through four rounds]. I think that would be a good week."

Mullally has done his best to prep his team, as the Canadians travelled to Houston last week for a mini camp, playing on a course with identical grass to the new Olympic Golf Course in Rio.

Medal contention

Windy course or not, Henderson is Canada's best shot at a medal.

After bursting into the LPGA spotlight by winning the women's PGA Championship in a playoff over top-ranked Ko to capture her first career major back in June, she struggled throughout July finishing 64th at the U.S. Open, then tied for 50th at the British Open a few weeks ago.

Henderson has also been the busiest on the LPGA Tour this season, playing 81 tour rounds among her 21 events.

Sharp, too, has been busy this season, competing in 19 LPGA events.

While she and Henderson have spent time on tour together, Mullally said Sharp brings veteran wisdom to the team.

"She's a very calm person and she offers a youthful approach in the sense that she really loves it," Mullally said. "She's been there, she's experienced and unlike a rookie she knows when to rest and how valuable that is."

As mentioned, the two Canucks will be up against many of their usual LPGA Tour adversaries, including Ko.

The 19-year-old New Zealander has been on a tear this season with four wins, including her second career major at the ANA Inspiration back in April, and was on a roll with five consecutive top-five finishes through June and July.

But Ko also struggled at the women's British Open. She narrowly missed the cut by two strokes, and finished tied for 40th, 15 strokes off the lead — her worst finish of the season.

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