“Wow, at least I don’t get hit in the face.”
Those were the words of Finland’s Matilda Castren, one of the hottest players in women’s golf at the moment, who fired a 3-under par 68 on Wednesday putting her two shots off the lead held by Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom.
Indeed, everything is relative in sports. Castren learned that lesson last week when she spent a few days in the Olympic Village before moving to a hotel closer to Kasumigaseki Country Club.
“(Staying in the Village) really made us feel part of the Olympics and the Olympians,” the 26-year-old said. “Seeing all the athletes, everything is just so well thought out. The gym, the dorms are cool, you're staying with other athletes. I was staying with one of the boxers from Finland.
“It was funny, she came home on Thursday night, the day I met her, I didn't really know anything about her. She comes home, all I know is that she won her match, and she comes back and has a black eye. Wow, that never happens on the golf course to me, so I should be very thankful. She was like, ‘Well, every sport has its ups and downs.’ And I'm like, ‘Wow, at least I don't get hit in the face.’”
On the flip side, at least the boxing matches are held indoors.
For those who work in Fahrenheit, the heat index in Tokyo was 107 on Wednesday. And, no, it was not a dry heat. Athletes competing outdoors at places like Miyagi Stadium, Tokyo Stadium and Kasumigaseki Country Club, which has been stretched out to major-championship length for the women, adjusted their rituals to remain as cool as possible. For the best female golfers in the world, that meant loading up on cooling towels and drinking enough water to fill a sake barrel. But that’s nothing new. Players on the LPGA Tour travel to the hottest parts of Asia on an annual basis. As Sagstrom put it, “It's hot. I'm not going to lie, it's very hot. But it's manageable. Most of us have been in Asia, played a lot of golf over here, so we know what to do.”
Sagstrom then gave a brief clinic on hydration management. “Hydration starts early,” she said. “It starts the night before. It starts the weeks before. I've been drinking water for weeks (before) coming here. I probably drink a bottle if not every hole every other hole. I keep adding electrolytes and salt and stuff to make sure I absorb it. You take energy drinks and stuff to just try to maintain. But I drink a lot at night, too, just preparing for tomorrow.”
Still, the International Golf Federation and the Tokyo Olympic Committee sent out a heat advisory to players stating that the medical staff had advised that no more than 18 holes be played in a day. With the weather forecast iffy for the weekend, that means that competitors (and fans) should be prepared for the possibility of a 54-hole competition. It’s easy days, obviously. No one wants to predict a weather-shortened outcome to such a monumental event. But as long as everyone knows the score up front, game plans can be adjusted accordingly.
Castren, who arrived in Tokyo with two wins in the last three months, one of which qualified her for LET member and a possible spot on the European Solheim Cup team, brushed aside the heat as part of the job. At least she’s not in danger of getting hit in the face.
“I'm obviously so proud to represent Finland and to be here,” she said. “This experience has been amazing so far. It's been one of my goals since golf became an Olympic sport. And I'm just so happy and proud to have qualified. I hope a lot of people in Finland are watching and I hope we can make golf bigger in Finland. The past year (golf has) been growing a lot because of COVID. That's been one of the only sports that (people) can do during the pandemic. So, golf has been growing a lot. And with the success of me on the LPGA Tour and the other girls on the Ladies European Tour, a lot more girls are taking interest. That's the most important thing playing in an event like this that's broadcast at home, because everyone knows the Olympics.
“Not everyone knows the Mediheal Championship (where Castren captured her maiden LPGA Tour win back in June) or what that means. But the Olympics is something that every single person can relate to.”
Castren hopes fans of the Olympics will not only find golf, but also develop a rooting interest, just as she now has a rooting interest in boxing.
“She just made it to the semi-finals last night,” Castren said of her pugilist roommate. “If I didn't stay with her, I maybe would follow but I wouldn't feel like that connection to her that I feel now.
“I'm just super proud. I sent her a message. But I think she's been getting a lot of messages, so she hasn't got back to me. But, yeah, I became her fan. I'm going to follow her for the rest of her career.”