Thailand win golfing gold at the 18th hole to end local and US dreams
Golf’s cumulative mixed team event went down to the last green as Atthaya Thitikul, partnered with compatriot Vanchai Luangnitikul, birdied the last two holes to win gold at the expense of USA and Argentina at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Thursday 15 October.
The victory meant that despite a nervy finish, and despite the best efforts of the watching crowd to spur Argentinian duo Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira and Ela Anacona to victory, US golfer Akshay Bhatia was denied gold at the last hole for the second time in five days.
Australia’s Karl Vilips had snatched individual gold from Bhatia’s fingertips on Thursday 11 October with birdies on the final two holes, before Thitikul did the same to push the USA into the silver medal position in the last day of golfing action. The Thai pair had been five shots behind USA with holes running out, and they believed the gold was out of reach.
“We were playing for a silver medal so didn’t feel any pressure,” admitted a delighted Luangnitikul, who diverted all praise to his teammate. “We didn’t think about the result, she just made birdies. Playing together is just great,” continued Luangnitikul, who finished fourth in the men’s individual competition. “We practise together a lot, we are friends.”
For much of the final round it felt like half of Buenos Aires was following bronze medal winners, Argentine duo De Oliveira and Anacona.
“That is the most fun I have ever had on a golf course,” De Oliveira said. “All day the crowd helped us. That is one of the best rounds I have ever played.”
And yet while he may not have won a gold medal, USA’s Bhatia could be crowned a standout star of the Youth Olympic Games after displaying admirable levels of grace. The 16-year-old, who became the first player to win back-to-back Boys Junior PGA titles this year, is already showing signs of a champion, despite twice suffering the agony of defeat with gold firmly in his grasp.
“I had so much fun today,” Bhatia said. “Me and Lucy played some really solid golf and we hung in there when it could have gone either way, and ultimately that’s the most important thing. We’ll learn from this and hopefully if we are on the right path we won’t make the same mistakes in the Solheim Cup, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. It wasn’t our time this week, that’s all you can think.”
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, the world amateur No.28 chose to highlight the great team atmosphere he and Li generated.
“I had a blast at least playing with her for three days and hanging out with her,” Bhatia said. “It’s just so much fun playing a team event with a girl for once, you just don’t get to experience that too much in golf. It’s just a lifetime experience.”