Raring to go: Asian women's golf stars ready for Olympic Games challenge
Reigning US Women’s Open champion Chun In-gee of South Korea and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn can’t wait for the sport to return next month in Rio despite widespread concerns over Zika
Two of Asia’s top women’s golfers in position to play at next month’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics are excited about the opportunity and plan to compete despite Zika virus worries.
Reigning US Women’s Open champion Chun In-gee of South Korea, who defends her crown this week, and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn are cherishing the chance to compete for their homelands in women’s golf’s return to the Olympic sporting line-up after being contested only in 1900.
“I can’t wait for Olympics because it’s going to be my first tournament play to represent Thailand,” world number seven Ariya said.
“I really want to play that tournament because I can represent Thailand and I’m really excited about that.”
Several top men’s players have already withdrawn over Zika concerns, including world number one Jason Day of Australia, world number four Rory McIlroy, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
South Africa’s world number 37 Lee-Anne Pace is the only top women’s player to have said she will not compete in Rio.
Teams will be chosen based on Monday’s world rankings and Chun, ranked sixth, is third among South Koreans behind world number three Park In-bee and world number five Kim Sei-young.
Park is questionable for the event due to a thumb injury but the depth of Korean talent is such that three other players are ninth to 11th in the rankings – Amy Yang, Jang Ha-na and Ryu So-yeon – and have a chance to move higher.
Chun will be difficult to overtake for one of the four Rio berths on offer for South Korea, twice what most nations will have because so many Koreans are in the world top 15.
“It’s such a huge honour to be an Olympian,” Chun said. “I’m aware there are a lot of concerns regarding health issues and security issues, but to be able to play at the Olympics is the biggest achievement and honour. So if I get a chance to play at the Olympics, I’ll do my best.”
Chun defends her first major crown when the 71st US Women’s Open begins at the 6,752-yard CordeValle course in San Martin, California.
She birdied three of the final four holes last year to fire a final round 66 and match the tournament scoring record of 272 to edge Yang by one shot.
“The win at the US Women’s Open last year was my dream come true,” Chun said. “And since my dream came true, my dream has continued to come true again and again, and this year has been great.”
Chun won eight times worldwide last year and has five top three finishes this year, including a runner-up effort to world number one Lydia Ko at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.
“I think I’m doing very well this season,” Chun said. “If I continue to be like this, since this is a very long season, I’ll come up with something really great. I’m looking forward to it.”