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Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life -

he pres­sure to rep­re­sent and per­form will al­ways be there in the Olympics. But in the case of the golfers el­i­gi­ble for Rio, the most com­monly shared in­cen­tive is the an­tic­i­pated thrill of be­ing in­cluded and tak­ing in the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered nerdy “semi-ath­letes” com­pared to team-sport stars, golfers get­ting to the Olympics is a lit­tle like hav­ing the cool kids in high school nally in­vite them to their party. Even Nicklaus be­trays a bit of that think­ing when his time as an out­stand­ing high school bas­ket­ball player is men­tioned. “I be­came a golfer be­cause,

rst, I was an ath­lete,” he says. Arnold Palmer likes to tell about be­ing on stage with base­ball star Roger Maris be­fore the pre­sen­ta­tion of the 1960 Hickok Belt for best ath­lete of the year.When Maris saw Palmer, he said de­ri­sively to the golfer,“What the hell are you do­ing here?”Af­ter Palmer was an­nounced as the win­ner, he brushed by Maris on his way to the mi­cro­phone and whis­pered,“What the hell are you do­ing here?”

Of course, to­day’s golfers have been ath­let­i­cally val­i­dated, by Woods and by dis­ci­plined train­ing reg­i­mens that carve out lean mus­cle. In a role re­ver­sal, tour play­ers are now held up as mod­els of ath­letic co­or­di­na­tion and con­cen­tra­tion by team-sport ath­letes who as­pire to be bet­ter at golf. And some golfers even have Olympic roots. Jeev Milkha Singh’s fa­ther, Milkha Singh,

nished fourth for In­dia in the 400 me­tres at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.The par­ents of Korea’s Byeong-Hun An were medal­lists in ta­ble ten­nis at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Be­fore mar­ry­ing Bub­baWat­son,Angie Ball was cho­sen for Canada’s Olympic women’s bas­ket­ball team but couldn’t play be­cause of in­jury. It’s doubt­ful that the golfers will feel as much like out­siders in Rio as they did in their ado­les­cence.

Which will make it eas­ier to do what they are re­ally look­ing for­ward to: just hang­ing out.As the sched­ule goes, the men will get more time in the Olympic Vil­lage around the open­ing cer­e­monies, and the women around the clos­ing cer­e­monies.

“Sure, the Olympics are go­ing to el­e­vate our sport a bit into that more ath­letic realm,” says Ernie Els, who at 46, was hop­ing a late surge might qual­ify him to rep­re­sent South Africa.“But I’d give my left toe just to be part of the whole spec­ta­cle. I love see­ing and meet­ing these ath­letes, the ab­so­lute best in the world. I just want to see what they’re all about and learn from them. Can you imag­ine?” But Spieth is also a lover of sports who in­tends to spend time in the OlympicVil­lage “and come in con­tact with some of the greats. I’d love to pick their brain. It can’t hurt at all.”And he’s an­other one with a soft spot for the open­ing cer­e­monies:“When I was re­ally young, that’s how I thought of the Olympics.To be one of those ath­letes would be some­thing I’d never for­get, walk­ing with the Amer­i­can ag there.” An­other Amer­i­can, Bubba Wat­son, is of a sim­i­lar mind. “Bot­tom line, I want to be an Olympic ath­lete,” he says. “Win­ning a gold, or any medal, would be a bonus. But watch­ing and meet­ing the other ath­letes – that’s go­ing to be the grow­ing part for who I am as a per­son, and who I am as an ath­lete.That’s the true cake, and the ic­ing would be a medal.”

Also rep­re­sent­ing the US is Dustin John­son, of­ten ac­knowl­edged as the most gifted ath­lete among pro­fes­sional golfers. He has con­sulted his fu­ture fa­ther-in-law, Wayne Gret­zky, who played for Canada’s hockey team at the 1998 Win­ter Olympics at Nagano.“The thing I would look for­ward to most would be walk­ing in the open­ing cer­e­monies,” John­son says. “I think it would be awe­some. I’ve talked to Wayne, and he said it’s re­ally cool.”

Brooke Hen­der­son, 18, was a youth-hockey goalie when she be­gan dream­ing of rep­re­sent­ing Canada, as she will as a golfer in Rio.“The Olympics is some­thing that I’ve looked for­ward to al­most my en­tire life,” she says.“As a

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