RIO DE JANEIRO – Canada’s Graham DeLaet rarely battle nerves at the start of a golf tournament.
The butterflies were definitely there on Thursday when he walked to the first tee at the Olympic Golf Course with the opening group.
“The last time I can think of really being nervous was probably the (2013) Presidents Cup,” he said. “There has been a couple times if you’re in final groups. But not the first tee shot of the week. So it was definitely a different feeling.
“You’re out there and you’re playing for more than just yourself. You’re playing for the flag and it’s a pretty cool feeling.”
DeLaet certainly didn’t play like he was nervous, firing four birdies over his first eight holes en route to a 5-under-par 66.
He held the clubhouse lead until Australia’s Marcus Fraser closed his round a short time later with a blistering 63. It was the first round of golf played at the Olympics since Canadian George S. Lyon won gold at the 1904 St. Louis Games.
“It’s pretty cool,” DeLaet said. “First time in over 100 years and we’re leading the charge here at the Olympics.”
Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Gregory Bourdy of France were in third place at 67 as play continued Thursday afternoon. David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., opened with a 2-over-par 73.
DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., was joined by Brazil’s Adilson da Silva and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An in the first group. They were greeted by a phalanx of photographers for the historic moment, with da Silva sending the opening drive down the middle of the fairway.
Golf is in the developmental stages in the host country and the rather empty grandstands showed it. There were still groups of fans who followed the golfers around the 7,128-yard course, which has wide fairways, deep bunkers and plenty of slope.
DeLaet, with friend and retired NHL player Ray Whitney on his bag, was an impressive 31 at the turn. His lone bogey came on the 11th hole but he got that shot back on No. 13 and closed his round with another birdie.
“I played well all day,” he said. “We obviously had a great tee time. I mean, we didn’t play in a whole lot of wind until we made the turn. The last five, six holes it was blowing pretty good and I think it’s only picking up here now so I’m pretty happy to be first off.”
DeLaet’s approach game was in form and he was very impressed by the greens, which he said were playing “super true.”
“Hopefully I can keep it rolling,” he said. “I told Ray on 15, I almost made a huge bomb, it was almost a 50-footer with 10 feet of break. I said, ‘I feel like Jordan Spieth with this (putter) in my hand right now.’
“So hopefully that will stick with me for another few days.”
Both Canadians said they have thoroughly enjoyed the Olympic experience so far. They went to Canada Olympic House on Tuesday and were joined by the national women’s rugby sevens team on the bus ride over.
DeLaet said he held one of their bronze medals and left feeling even more motivated to shine on the Olympic stage.
“That’s when it really became real to me how amazing it would be to get that chunk of metal,” DeLaet said. “Obviously gold would be incredible but I think bringing home anything would be really special.”
Hearn struggled on the front nine before rebounding late in his round. He took a six on the par-4 second hole and was 39 at the turn before picking up birdies on three of his last four holes.
“It’s kind of my track record, I get a little better every day,” Hearn said. “So hopefully that was my bad day and I can just build on that each and every day.”
The top four players in the world — Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Spieth and Rory McIlroy — are not in Rio, but the field still boasts big names like Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time so I know that I’m only 25 per cent done,” DeLaet said. “So I’m not getting too far ahead of myself, but it’s definitely better to shoot five under than five over to open up.”
Play continues through Sunday.
The women’s tournament begins Wednesday. Canada will be represented by Alena Sharp of Hamilton and world No. 3 Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont.
Tweets from around the world:
— Olympic Golf (@OlympicGolf) August 11, 2016
— Golf Canada (@TheGolfCanada) August 11, 2016
Graham DeLaet among the early Olympics co-leaders. Watch out for Canada. Like clockwork at this thing, every 112 years.
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) August 11, 2016
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) August 11, 2016
Great start in Brazil for @GrahamDeLaet
— Weirsy (@MikeWeir) August 11, 2016