We heard it countless times throughout the fortnight. These were not normal golf events. Only the top three spots matter in the Olympics. Gold. Silver. Bronze. That’s it. Take some chances. Go for broke. Because 4th is the same as 44th. It’s the podium or nothing.
But that turned out to be untrue, at least in the second week. The player who finished 4th in the women’s golf competition at these Olympic Games, one shot out of a playoff for the silver and bronze medal, had arguably a bigger impact than anyone on the podium either week.
Aditi Ashok, who came to Tokyo ranked No. 200 in the Rolex Rankings, fell a couple of putts short of her goal. But by being in the mix throughout the week; by being the shortest hitter in the field – 60th out of 60 in driving distance for the week – but No. 1 in putting; by rolling putts in from seemingly everywhere, no matter how big the moment, Ashok inspired millions in her homeland of India to get up at 3:00 a.m. to tune into a sport many if not most of the 1.4 billion citizens had never seen.
Starting the day three shots behind Nelly Korda, Ashok walked off the 7th green tied for the lead. But as the day wore on, and play was suspended for 45 minutes while the first of what would be many thunderstorms in the area passed, Ashok’s hot putter could not make up for the fairways she missed and the distance she gave up. But despite missing a medal by the narrowest of margins, one shot out of a playoff for the podium, and two away from gold, she succeeded in ways that truly matter. She inspired a people to dream.
Well played, Aditi Ashok! One more daughter of India makes her mark!— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 7, 2021
You have taken Indian golfing to new heights by today's historic performance. You have played with immense calm and poise. Congratulations for the impressive display of grit and skills.
#AditiAshok played really well. Missed the medal by whiskers and finished 4th in #olympics. And guess who is her caddie, her mother. That is the kind of support our sportspersons need. pic.twitter.com/ChyD0FwWdt— Parveen Kaswan (@ParveenKaswan) August 7, 2021
She came.— Priyanka Shukla (@PriyankaJShukla) August 7, 2021
And she conquered billions of hearts🇮🇳🇮🇳! #AditiAshok pic.twitter.com/czRmL4cS1s
“Obviously coming in I tried my best to hole the last few putts just knowing that in a regular tournament whether you finish second or fourth it really doesn't matter, no one cares. But like at this event you need to be in the top 3. I didn't leave anything out there, I think I gave it a hundred percent. But, yeah, fourth at an Olympics where they give out three medals kind of sucks.”
Those were her words in the seconds after play concluded. Once the impact of her performance sinks in, Aditi will realize what a change she has made.
Just before she walked away from the 18th green at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Ashok had one last message, one that will be remembered and repeated throughout India for some time.
“When I started golf, I never dreamt of being in or contending at the Olympics,” she said. “Golf wasn't even an Olympic sport. So sometimes you just pick it up and work hard and have fun every day. And sometimes you get here.”