KAWAGOE, Japan – Midway through Wednesday’s scorching opening round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Lydia Ko’s caddie filled an ice pack in a desperate attempt to beat the heat.
“He put ice in my ice pack on the tee and by the time I was on the green the ice was all melted on that same hole,” she shrugged as sweat dripped from her arms into a puddle at her feet.
Anecdotally, it was hot on Day 1 of the women’s Olympic golf competition. No, it was really hot. According to the official forecast, the heat index reached 111 degrees. To put that in context, the heat index on Tuesday at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which is widely considered the PGA Tour’s hottest event, was a modest 97 degrees.
Athletes know the Olympics are the ultimate test of mind and body, but the sweltering afternoon took an unexpected toll.
Lexi Thompson’s caddie, Jack Fulghum, had to be replaced late in the round as he suffered with heat sickness.
“He just asked me, he's like, ‘Do I look white to you?’ And I'm like, I didn't really notice, but he just didn't look good. I just want him to be healthy, that's all,” Thompson said.
U.S. Women’s Open winner Yuka Saso had a replacement caddie for all of Round 1 as her regular caddie suffered a heat stroke on Tuesday.
Ko lives in Orlando, Florida, and is well aware of how heat and humidity can have a dual impact on one’s performance, but Wednesday put the sizzle in these Summer Games.
“I was talking to Inbee [Park] and we're like, I don't know if it's hotter here or if it's hotter in Thailand and Singapore. And that's a big statement, because that is probably one of the hottest tournaments we play all year,” said Ko, who was tied for 16th at 1 under par.
The men were given a taste of the Japanese summer last week, but it was nothing like this thanks to the occasional storm that helped take the edge off the afternoon temperatures. There were also warm winds for most of the men’s competition that provide some relief, but there wasn’t the slightest breeze and little relief for the women on Day 1.
Large misting fans were placed throughout the golf course and players were warned as they arrived at Kasumigaseki that the “heat stress index” was 4, which is the highest level and considered “dangerous.”
It wasn’t all hydrating and a constant quest for shade. The heat meant the golf ball was flying forever and the course continues to dry out after last week’s rains.
“It's definitely firmed up. It's really hot out so it's flying further. I'm pretty sure the carry on that bunker today on 18 was like 250 or 240-something [yards] and I flew it just easily,” said Nelly Korda, who was tied for second place after a first-round 67. “It's flying far.”
But an extra couple of yards on each drive didn’t seem like a reasonable tradeoff for players. Staying hydrated is the primary concern on days like Wednesday, but there was also the ongoing battle to stay focused on golf – not the heat.
“I'm trying to not think about how hot it is and just focus on my shots,” Ko said. “We're out there for five hours so being focused is so important and I think when you keep thinking to yourself, Oh my God, it's so hot. Like, Oh my God, oh my God. I think it disburses where you should be focusing.”
There isn’t much relief in sight for the 60-player field. Thursday’s forecast calls for a high of 98 degrees and a heat index that will likely surpass Wednesday’s 111 degrees. It’s a similar script for Friday’s third round while an approaching storm is set to bring rain and more moderate temperatures for the final round.
With the midday sun relentlessly hammering down and the temperature soaring, Thompson toweled off sweat and tipped back her second bottle of water in as many minutes. She was worried about Fulghum, who according to officials was recovering after his bout with heat sickness, and she desperately wanted to find some air conditioning when she was asked about the patriotic red, white and blue hair coloring she’d used for Round 1.
“I was like, this is on the shirt, but I don't care. I wasn't worried about it,” she sighed.
It was too hot to care about hair coloring or anything else at these sweltering Summer Games.