Rio de Janeiro, 29th June: With five years to go before Brazil hosts golf's return to the Olympics, Colombia's Mariajo Uribe gave the women's game in South America a significant boost by winning the HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
The 21-year-old from Bucaramanga gained her first victory as a professional shooting a 9-under-par 135 for the US$720,000 two-round event at the Itanhanga Golf Club in the Barra de Tijuca district of Rio. Uribe, the 2007 US Women's Amateur champion, won by a stroke from Australian Lindsey Wright who narrowly missed a seven-foot breaking putt to force a play-off.
"It'll make a huge impact on South American golf, especially women's golf. With the Olympics coming up we need a lot of representatives from South America, so I think it's a big deal," said Uribe, who enjoyed enormous local support during her six-under-par final round.
"That's how Latin people are! It's not only because I'm Colombian, if you play with passion and if you're emotional on the course they support you. The Brazilian fans reacted to me as if I were one of their own."
Uribe added that even though the tournament is not considered an official LPGA event win and the prize money doesn't count on the tour's money list, it is playing a significant role in a country that, despite its population of 200 million, only has 25,000 golfers.
"A lot of the kids I saw last year are training more because they met me and they have someone closer to relate with. I think my win is going to create a huge buzz," she said.
The President of the South American Golf Federation (the Federacion Sudamericana de Golf) and of the Brazilian Golf Confederation (the Confederacao Brasileira de Golfe), Rachid Orra said Uribe's victory was as significant to the region as Jhonattan Vegas' victory at the Bob Hope Classic in January; even though Vegas' win has single-handedly changed Venezuela president Hugo Chavez's attitude to the sport.
"Symbolically it's the same thing because it's a girl that has beaten some of the best players in the world!" declared Orra.
"It'll be all over the newspapers in Brazil that South America has one girl, and others, that can compete equally with some of the best players. It's a great thing that one girl from South America has beaten some of the best players in the world. It's very important for us. It's an example for the young girls that want to play golf to see one girl from Colombia, a country like Brazil, can win a very important tournament. We are very happy. The coming of the HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup was a very important step for us, taken three years ago. This is another one. Both are very, very, very important," he explained.
Uribe's victory is South America's first at the LPGA level since Paraguay's Julieta Granada scooped the million dollar jackpot at the ADT Championship in November 2006. The last Colombian win was Marisa Baena's 2005 triumph as a complete outsider in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship in 2005.
"Golf in Brazil and in the region is at such an embryonic stage that every step in the right direction, every little thing that gains attention and increases the interest to a broader audience, is of enormous importance," said David Kotheimer, Deputy CEO and Vice Presidente of tournament sponsors HSBC Bank Brasil.
"The sport has been so energised here by its introduction to the Olympics and the prospect of its return in the 2016 Rio Games, but a 'local' win at the HSBC Brasil Cup will still play a substantial part in fanning those flames even more. This event really can be a catalyst, just as the WGC-HSBC Champions has been a catalyst for growth in China. That was the strategy behind investing here just as we have in Asia," he added.
Relatively forgotten in the excitement was the performance of the 31-year-old Wright, who was overjoyed at getting back into contention for a title for the first time since she finished runner-up at the LPGA Championship, one of the women's Majors, in 2009.
"To finish second and to have a chance of winning was awesome; just for my confidence. I felt really pleased because I went for every shot. On the last hole I went for it, pulled off the shot and nearly holed the putt. I was happy to be in that position; really happy to get the nerves and that "Yeah! This is great!" feeling… and I haven't had that feeling in a long time," Wright said.