RIO DE JANEIRO — If Patrick Reed happens to win an Olympic gold medal, the 26-year-old golfer might wear it to his next PGA event.
“The problem is, with it being gold, it is kind of heavy," he said before practicing on the Rio course on Tuesday.
Reed, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar arrived in Rio on Monday morning — after competing in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut over the weekend. They joined Rickie Fowler, who walked in the Opening Ceremony Friday night with his caddie, Joe Skovron. Although Watson missed the Opening Ceremony, he wore his Opening Ceremony outfit to the Travelers dinner on Friday night.
In a pre-Olympic tournament press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the four American golfers were decked out in their Team USA clothing and wore USA caps, all thrilled to call themselves Olympians.
“Growing up, all we really dreamed about was the majors because golf was never a part of it,” said Reed. “I remember when I was little watching the Olympics and wishing I had the chance to play for a gold medal. Now that we actually have the opportunity, it’s awesome.”
They tee off in the Olympic golf tournament on Thursday morning, with the four rounds concluding on Sunday. Unlike in 1904, when golf was last on the Olympic program, men and women will only compete in individual competition, not as a team.
But the four golfers were acting as a team, joking with each other in the press conference.
“We are a team, but we’re not,” said Watson. “Representing the United States, I’m pulling for these guys, but not if I’m trying to beat them for a medal!”
Fowler has practiced on the Gil Hanse-designed course for several days, and Watson, Reed and Kuchar got their first look Tuesday. They liked what they saw — a course with a desert-like feel and interesting wildlife, such as capybaras, the world’s largest rodent resembling small, furry hippopotamuses, and caimens (small crocodiles).
Off the course, the four pro golfers plan to do more in Rio than compete for medals. Rather than staying in hotels, they have moved into the Olympic village.
“I want to live the experience, hang out there, meet the other athletes and enjoy my time as an Olympian,” said Watson, a two-time Masters champion who is ranked No. 1 in the Olympic tournament (and currently sixth in the world).
Shortly after landing in Rio, Kuchar went to watch table tennis — one of his favorite sports to play when he isn’t on the links. Before Rio, Kuchar secretly had his fingers crossed that one or more American golfers ahead of him in world ranking would pull out so he could have a chance to compete at the Olympic Games.
“As a fan of sport, it’s a boyhood dream,” Kuchar said. “Wouldn’t that be amazing? What could you do to be an Olympic athlete? To be here now, it’s quite amazing. It’s a fantastic experience. I knew there were concerns, but a lot of things get blown out of proportion. I figured coming down here, it would be great.”
All four watched Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky win gold Tuesday night. They also hope to see Justin Gatlin take on Usain Bolt in the 100-meter on Sunday night after golf concludes.
“It’s inspiring to watch fellow U.S. athletes do well, compete, get a medal, gold, whatever it may be,” said Fowler. “You get chills watching them when they win, it pushes you to do the best that you can. It’s going to make it a fun feeling for us when we tee up on Thursday.”
When golf starts on Thursday, it will be the first time that the game has been an Olympic sport in 112 years. The sport debuted in the Paris 1900 Olympic Games, and Charles Sands, from New York, won golf’s first Olympic gold medal that year. It was not his only Olympic sport though. He had been eliminated from men’s singles and doubles in the lawn tennis tournament earlier in the 1900 Games.
The U.S. won 10 Olympic medals in golf before the sport was dropped from the Olympic program. The only other countries to win Olympic medals in golf are Canada and Britain.
Competition for medals in Rio will be steep. The Olympic tournament features six major champions, including Watson, and the Americans expect to face stiff competition from 2015 U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer (Germany); Justin Rose (Great Britain), who was runner-up at the 2015 Masters Championship; and Sergio Garcia (Spain), who finished fifth in both the 2016 U.S. Open and The Open Championship in Britain.
With four golfers competing in Rio, the U.S. is the only country that could sweep the Olympic podium. No other country qualified more than two golfers. Behind Watson, Fowler is ranked third in the tournament, Reed seventh and Kuchar eighth.
“We’re going to have to play well,” said Fowler. “But we’re the only country that has a chance to podium sweep. So that’s kind of cool.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.