Inbee Park of South Korea has hinted that this might mark the end of her competitive golf career, and if so her road to retirement is paved in Olympic gold.
Park, 28, who earlier this year met the criteria for LPGA Hall of Fame inclusion, added a gold medal to her resume in the women’s golf competition at the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
“This really could be the highlight of my career,” Park said. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity. We have five major tournaments a year. I’ve won a lot of the major championships. The Olympic Games you get to do it only once ever four years and golf in 112 years. It’s a huge honor and I think it could be the highlight of my golfing career.”
It was vintage Park, the best putter in women’s golf, who holed birdie putts of nine, 15, 25, four, 26, nine and 10 feet in a round of 66 for a five-stroke victory that might cap a career that includes seven major championships among her 17 LPGA victories.
She finished 72 holes in 16-under par 268, a remarkable performance under any circumstances, but notably so for a player who some in her homeland thought should have stepped aside to allow a healthier South Korean to replace her.
An injured thumb that continues to bother her has limited her starts and productivity in 2016 — she hadn’t played in more than two months — and she has indicated a desire to start a family. The combination of two might rule in favor of retirement.
"I had a lot of attention coming into this wee," she said. "There was a little bit of confusion for me whether I can perform well this week because of injury. I’ve worked really hard for this week.
As for her immediate future? "There is no plan for retirement at the moment," she said. "I really haven’t planned for anything right now. Just going to go day by day."
The drama on Saturday fell to the quest for silver and bronze medals, with the cast of candidates alternating among America’s Stacy Lewis, China’s Shanshan Feng, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Japan’s Harukyo Nomura.
Ko, No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, won the silver medal, by sneaking in an eight-foot birdie putt at 18 to edge bronze medalist Feng by one. Ko and Feng both closed with 69s.
Lewis rebounded from a third-round 76 to shoot a five-under par 66 to tie Nomura and Hee Young Yang of South Korea for fourth.
Gerina Piller of the U.S., who began the final round trailing Park by two, closed with a three-over par 74 and tied for 11th. American Lexi Thompson had her best round of the week, a five-under par 66 that was 10 shots better than her third-round score and jumped her to a tie for 19th.
Russian Maria Verchenova, meanwhile, produced the lowest score of the Olympic Games, men or women, a nine-under par 62 that included a hole-in-one at the 153-yard fourth hole.