This week, golf makes its return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 when Canada’s George Lyon claimed the gold medal at Echo Glen C.C. in St. Louis, MO. Headlines the weeks preceding the event centered around the Zika virus, player safety and players who aren’t participating rather than who is, but now that we are here, excitement and enthusiasm around the event are growing. I was a critic of the Olympics, much of my negativity caused by the poor format choice, but now that the Olympics are here, I am really excited to see golf included in the world’s biggest sporting event. Here’s everything you need to know before coverage starts on Thursday morning!
Most of the news in the weeks leading up to the event was about who isn’t playing rather than who is, and the small 60-man field is quite impressive. Headlining the event are the big names of Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Rickie Fowler (USA), Bubba Watson (USA), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Patrick Reed (USA), Danny Willett (ENG), Justin Rose (ENG) and Matt Kuchar (USA). Beyond the obvious stars, the Olympics is going to provide the opportunity for a lesser-known international player to make a name for himself as players from the European, Web.com, Challenge and Asian Tours have a legitimate shot at winning the championship if they get hot.
If you want you to be in the know about the format (unlike Matt Kuchar who until last week thought the Olympics was a team competition), the Olympics will be played as an individual championship with players competing for gold, silver and bronze medals over 72 holes of golf Thursday-Sunday.
Gil Hanse won the IOC bid to design the Olympic golf course over big names such as Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Doak. While Hanse’s name might not sound familiar, he is part of the new age architects that are designing spectacular courses. His work includes courses such as Scottish Open site Castle Stuart, Boston Golf Club, Rustic Canyon and high profile, soon- to-be-complete projects Los Angeles C.C. South Course and Streamsong Resort’s Black Course. Hanse’s work in Brazil will mark history as Brazil’s first public access golf course after the Olympics conclude.
So far, the course has received rave reviews from players and has been described by many as British Isles links golf meets Australian Sandbelt Golf. The par-71 7,220-yard Olympic course features firm and fast playing conditions that will put a premium on not only finding the fairway but having the right angle to attack flags on the course’s heavily-bunkered greens. Couple the firm and fast conditions with the windy conditions we have seen thus far in Rio, and the Olympic course should be a great test of golf. See a full course preview here.
5 Storylines to watch
- American Sweep - Team USA is the only country that had more than 2 players qualify for the competition, and with the quartet of Watson, Fowler, Reed and Kuchar among the highest-ranked players in the world, it could be conceivable to see a U.S. sweep of the medals.
- Olympic Pressure - As we see every two years at the Ryder Cup, playing for your country brings a higher level of intensity and pressure than we see week in and week out on Tour. I expect this week’s Olympics to be very similar as many players have already made comments about how nerves have set in. The Olympics is the world’s largest spectacle and an opportunity for players to transcend the status of PGA Tour star by becoming a national hero. I expect the tested veterans in the field to be fine, but we could see some of the younger and less-experienced players falter late on Sunday.
- Anyone’s Championship - With a small field of only 60 players, it truly is anyone’s tournament. The highest-ranked player in the field is Portugal’s Jose-Filipe Lima at 405th in the world. Lima is no slouch as the young professional won a Challenge Tour (European Tour’s Web.com Tour equivalent) earlier this year, no easy feat. With only 60 players in the field, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a win from a player on a smaller tour such as the Web.com, Challenge or Asian Tour.
- Growing the game - The Olympic course in Rio is a fundamental part of growing the game in Brazil with the city of Rio and the country of Brazil now having a public access golf course. Beyond Brazil, the Olympics is the most-watched worldwide sporting event, giving golf an excellent opportunity to grow its footprint beyond the handful of countries where the game is popular.
- Jaco Van Zyl - After earning a spot on the South African team by way of withdrawals from high-profile players such as Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Van Zyl made the head-scratching decision to withdraw from the Open and PGA Championships to prepare for Rio. I wonder what Van Zyl has been doing since his last start, a t62nd at the French Open in early July. While preparation is very important, I believe logging tournament rounds is just as or more important. I will be interested to see how the South African fairs this week.
Thursday - Saturday: 6:30 AM - 3 PM EST Golf Channel
Sunday: 6 AM - 3 PM EST Golf Channel