Olympic golf – national pride or side show? -
A field that contains Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy is not exactly a tournament in need of some stardust. But when it's the Olympics, there's still just as much talk about who isn't going to be there.
Golf's 2016 return to the Olympic fold after a 112-year break divided opinions both inside and outside the sport and, it's fair to say, those debates are still going strong in 2021.
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For every 'take pride in competing for your country' call to arms, there's an 'Olympic medal is not the pinnacle of the sport' or a 'doesn't fit with my Tour schedule' counter-argument adding spice to the mix.
Or, in Sergio Garcia's case, there is the 'I want to concentrate on my Ryder Cup spot' excuse.
In general, it seems most of the arguing has come from the men's side of the sport. Nearly all of the game’s leading women players, bar England's Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, will be at Tokyo, so while some will lament the absence of a Dustin Johnson or a Tyrrell Hatton, most will focus on what should be a great two weeks of competition with some golf’s biggest talents.
The world number 14, Tommy Fleetwood, is certainly up for it, inspired by his fellow Englishman and the gold medallist from Rio 2016, Justin Rose.
“You’re not just playing as an individual. You’re playing for the nation.”
“I don’t think we would see that as pressure. We would see that as a proud moment and something that we’re really, really excited about. It is fantastic that we’ve had a gold medallist for our sport, and I’m sure we would all just absolutely love to keep that going.”
Images by (left) architecturaldigest.com - Getty images / (right) golfdigest.com - Cliff hawkins.
THE FORMAT & QUALIFYING
The top 15 men and women in the world get an automatic spot for Tokyo, but a country can have only four players maximum at the event, so some big names were always going to miss out.
The rest of the 60-strong field are chosen based on their world rankings - up to a reduced maximum of two players per country.
In the men's game, that means four players from the USA will be in Japan, while South Korea and America will each have four women competing.
The men will play four rounds of stroke play from July 29, and the women the same format from August 4.
Image by Unsplash.com - Christop Kiel.
'Take in the irreplaceable experience of playing amid seasonal plants such as dogwood, hydrangea, and horse-chestnut together with the calls of local birdlife.'
So says the course guide to...Augusta? No, it's the Tokyo Olympics course at the Kasumigaseki Country Club. The club has two courses for its members, with the East Course being used for the Olympics.
The general theme is length – it's a 7,466-yard par 71 with three par 5s. Augusta, for comparison's sake, is 7,475, but with four par 5s. The 'shortest' of those long holes at Kasumigaseki is 586 yards, while the other two come in at a monstrous 632 and 640 yards apiece.
The course was lengthened in 2016 to bring it up to modern day championship standards – just as well when Bryson is in town - and to confirm that theme, only one of the three par 3s is under 200 yards. Even then, it's a 180-yard beast over water to a fairly small green protected at the front by a deep and unforgiving bunker. Sound fun?
Sand, in fact, is another key factor on the East Course. That's thanks to an early redesign by architect Charles Alison, who introduced a number of cavernous bunkers to add some real bite to the original 1929 design. And just in case anyone thought they'd get some respite at either the turn or the 18th, the final holes on both the front and back nines are par 4s of 500 yards or more.
Images by (right) top100golfcourses.com / (left) lpga.com
All of that could play into the hands of the mighty hitter that is DeChambeau, but the smart money is on Spain's Jon Rahm at present. He has all the attributes to conquer a long course and in fine fettle after a podium finish at Royal St. Georges.
And on the women’s event, it would be a major surprise if the stars of South Korea and USA don't dominate the podium places.
But medals aside, what many will be hoping is that golf takes centre stage to work its magic on a new set of spectators and grow the game globally.
There's certainly enough big names at the event to do just that.
Images by (left) golfdigest.com - Sam Greenwood / (right) golfdigest.com - Stuart Franklin.