Sepp Straka holds a slender lead after day one of the Olympic Men’s Golf Competition, five years after he was inspired to become an Olympian by watching the action in Rio on TV.
The Austrian shot a bogey-free round of 63 to get to eight under par and open up a one shot lead over Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond at Kasumigaseki Country Club as he made his Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, after watching from afar as golf returned to the Olympics following a gap of over 100 years in Brazil.
Thomas Pieters got his bid to better his fourth place finish in 2016 off to a strong start with a six under par round of 65 to sit two shots off the lead, while Great Britain’s Paul Casey is within touching distance at four under par as he and team mate Tommy Fleetwood - who double-bogied the last to finish at one under par - seek to defend the gold medal won by Justin Rose five years ago.
“When they had them (the Olympics) in Brazil I was watching, I wasn't close to qualifying back then but I was watching and it seemed like a cool event,” said Straka.
“Everybody that I knew that went over there and played just raved about it. So, I knew at that point that that this was going to be on my radar and definitely wanted to play well so I could play my way in.”
Four-time European Tour winner Pieters just missed out on a medal in 2016, finishing behind Rose, Henrik Stenson of Sweden and American Matt Kuchar, and he feels inspired to step onto the podium under the Belgian flag this time round.
“This morning, when you get to the course and you realise this is like once every four years (or five this time), it hits you. So yeah, I was really looking forward to teeing off,” said Pieters.
“Being from a small country - we have got two medals up to now - you just want to get one more for your country. I mean (winning a medal) is like legendary status back home. I just want to get a medal, it would be lovely, but there is a long way to go.”
He is joined at six under par by Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, with Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen a shot further back in a tie for fifth.
Casey and his 2018 Ryder Cup winning team mate Alex Noren of Sweden are amongst four players at four under par, with the Brit aiming to emulate not only the exploits of Rose, but those of his nation’s Tokyo 2020 medal winners so far.
“Not an ounce of nerves (teeing off), a hundred percent excitement. Just really proud, to be honest. I think that's he coolest thing because I thought about it for so long, to me you can't class yourself an Olympian until you've actually started your competition," said Casey.
“You feel being around the Team GB building everybody watches and is aware of what is going on in every single sport. You walk into it and there are multiple TVs on and I can't keep track of it. Gold medal here and we got a bronze there, I mean, it's amazing. I feel that there's an immense sense of responsibility so I've got to try and deliver as much as I can. Team GB don't put pressure on you, but you feel that with the other athletes because everybody else is performing so brilliantly, I want to perform and live up to their expectations as well.”