Men's Golf Olympics Preview
It’s Olympic Week and first up we have the men’s competition. 60 players representing 35 countries will be teeing it up with the ambition of claiming gold for both themselves and their country.
Golf made an historic return to the Olympics in 2016 when Justin Rose claimed the gold medal, pipping his Ryder Cup teammate Henrik Stenson who received silver and Matt Kuchar who took bronze for the USA. Unfortunately for those three, none of them will be teeing it up again this year. In fact, only 9 players who played in the 2016 Olympics will again feature this year. The most high-profile of these is Patrick Reed who qualified as an alternate in the last few days and Thomas Pieters who finished fourth in 2016.
Men’s Golf in the Olympics is still up for debate. Many of the viewers think amateurs should be competing. Others believe it simply doesn’t rank highly enough in a golfer’s list of priorities, when you have Majors, WGCs and other highly lucrative and prestigious events to play for.
Golf had a rocky return to the Olympics in 2016 after a 112-year absence. Many players withdrew, citing reasons such as Zika virus, schedule clashes and the above reason of priorities. This had a negative affect on the tournament and called golf’s Olympics existence into question but the success of three of golf’s most premium players at the time in Rose, Stenson and Kuchar really saved it.
And this year the tournament has again been plagued by withdrawals. Not quite as many as 2016 but with players like Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen bowing out it does have a negative impact. Take into consideration also that world number 1 Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau have been ruled out due to positive COVID tests and you start to see cracks appearing in Golf at the Olympics.
But there’s still a wealth of talent on display and as golf is embedded deeper and deeper into the DNA of the Olympics and vice-versa, more and more of the top players will want to get their hands on Olympic Gold!
The East Course at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan will be the venue of choice for this year’s event. At its full length the course measures up to 7,466 yards and has some impressive pedigree. It has hosted a number of high-profile events over the years, most recently the 2006 Japan Open and the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship where an up-and-coming Hideki Matsuyama triumphed by 5 shots.
But the question is, who will win? Who will claim the coveted gold? Will it be Collin Morikawa who is headlining the event now that Jon Rahm is no longer taking part. What about his fellow Americans Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas or Patrick Reed. Rory Mcilroy? Or maybe it will be a surprise package like a Mackenzie Hughes or a Thomas Detry.
And it’s not just the Olympic Golf they are playing for. Some players might have the Ryder Cup on their minds too. While the American participants look certain to be taking part in the Ryder Cup on Team USA either through automatic qualification or Captain’s pick, the European team is less certain.
Shane Lowry jumped into automatic Ryder Cup qualification ahead of Victor Perez last week. A gold medal would make him a guarantee, regardless of automatic qualification or not. What about some of the other players? The likes of Guido Migliozzi, Alex Noren, Thomas Detry and Thomas Pieters. Admittedly, none are likely to be featuring too much in Captain Harrington’s thoughts right now but an Olympic Gold could spark a last minute surge.
And on a far more serious note there’s Sungjae Im and Si-Woo Kim. Both players are representing South Korea and require an Olympic Medal to be excused from a 2-year military service in their home country. For a whole host of reasons, it is clear why both players want to avoid the military service and we have a feeling everyone in golf will be rooting for them. But can they do it? Can they win a medal under a pressure so savage it makes the back nine on a major Sunday look like a walk in the park?
They are the storylines and, in some cases, the life changing situations for some of the players in the field. We have picked out our top 3 players who we think have a chance to compete for that Olympic Gold.
Japan’s favourite son can win on home soil. It isn’t often a major, global tournament comes to Japanese shores and we’re sure he can make full use of it.
Matsuyama is one of two Japanese players in the field this week, the other being Rikuya Hoshino, and we believe home comforts and home support will benefit both of them. Yes, there will be added pressure to deliver on their home stage but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
And Matsuyama has history at the course, too. As we mentioned above, he won the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship by 5 shots here. Sure, it was over a decade ago but it will bring positive experience for the Japanese star and having an idea of how the course will play is vital.
Matsuyama’s form has been poor since he became the first male Japanese golfer to win a major but we reckon the Olympics will bring out the best in him.
We go from a Japanese golfer to an American golfer of Japanese-Chinese heritage. But that’s not why we picked Morikawa. The question is, how do you not pick him.
There are a lot of quality young players in the world of golf but can anyone top Morikawa? He is a tour de force, a sensation that has already captured 2 major titles. In his last 7 events he has notched up 5 top tens which included a T4th at the US Open and a victory at the Open Championship.
The world number 3 is possibly the hottest golfer on the planet at the moment and will be full of confidence. Expect the American to play a big part in this tournament.
Who else? Did you honestly think we would shirk our patriotic duties and not pick an Irishman? And with McIlroy feeling the pressure of public opinion at the moment, it leaves space for Shane to take centre stage.
And the Offaly man has a great chance to win a gold medal this week. The field is smaller and less congested with fewer top-class talents and he has been showing good form recently. Of course, Lowry has never needed help from a weakened field, which he showed when he won the 2019 Open Championship.
Lowry has recorded three top 15 finishes in his last 5 events, including a T12th at the Open Championship and a T4th at the US Open. His game is trending in the right direction and this could be the perfect event for him to claim top spot.
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Enjoy the Olympics,