SYDNEY (Reuters) – Scott Hend might not be the best known Australian golfer but the peripatetic world number 75 says he is happy to handle the burden of his country’s hopes at the Rio Olympics after a rash of high profile withdrawals.
World number one Jason Day pulled out of the Games on Tuesday citing concerns over the Zika virus, following world number eight Adam Scott and 39th ranked Marc Leishman in withdrawing his name from contention.
Big-hitting Hend is therefore in pole position to land one of Australia’s two spots at the Rio de Janeiro Games, when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.
While keen to take up the challenge himself, Queenslander Hend was not about to criticize any of his compatriots for opting out.
“Everybody has their reasons for doing things and no-one should criticize a person for what they want to do,” the 42-year-old told the Golf Australia website from France before news broke of Day’s withdrawal.
“If you don’t want to compete in the Olympics then you don’t go. I may not be the best-ranked player from Australia but if I am fortunate enough to qualify for the team, I’ll go to Brazil and represent Australia the best way I can.”
Hend’s long career has taken him from the Tour of Australasia, through two years on the U.S. PGA Tour and onto the Asian Tour with regular forays into Europe.
Surprisingly for such a well-travelled player, Hend has never been to Brazil but he has no doubt he will hold his own if selected to represent Australia from Aug. 11-14.
“I have been playing very well and I’ve had a lot of wins in the last four to five years but unfortunately those wins have not been in a major or a WGC such as what Jason and Adam have achieved,” he added.
“I’ve never been to Brazil and while I’ve competed in Mexico and Panama I’m looking forward to pulling on the green and gold as it will be something different.”
Certainly national team manager Ian Baker-Finch had no doubt that the depth of Australian golf would hold the nation in good stead.
“Next in line Scott Hend, Marcus Fraser and Matt Jones, great players..,” he tweeted after Day’s withdrawal.
Fraser is six spots behind Hend in the world rankings and Jones is only a further four places back at world number 85, which will keep Hend on his toes over his next couple of events.
“If I am fortunate to be one of the two players who qualify it will be a great experience and something to one day tell the grand-kids,” he said.
“So these next few weeks are very important to me as if I can stay ahead of the guys behind me, then I should be fine.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)