2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
Golf has not been in the Olympics since the early 1900s. But the rapid expansion of the game around the world and its growing popularity prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reintroduce golf for the 2016 and 2020 summer Olympics. Competitors will be pro golfers from the PGA and LPGA. Qualification will be determined by the International Golf Federation (IGF) and based on current world rankings as of July 11, 2016. Is Golf in the Olympics? Yes it is and will include great golfers at the top of the world rankings.
It’s interesting to note that LPGA golfers seem more excited about golf coming to Rio than their male counter parts. Leading PGA golfers have been more outspoken about the Zika virus health risks in Rio de Janeiro. There is a growing list of top ranked PGA golfers who have opted out of Olympic consideration or are continuing to monitor the situation very closely.
Yes, Golf is in the Olympics
So is golf in the Olympics? Yes it is, but not without some controversy. The LPGA lady pros are embracing the coming Olympics more than PGA golfers. They recognize this as an opportunity to be ambassadors for women’s golf. They have more to gain than their male counterparts from this Olympic competition seen around the world. Such exposure will provide a tremendous boost to the LPGA’s already growing popularity.
Increased popularity around the world will ultimately lead to growth in tournament sponsorship demand which most assuredly will lead to larger tournament purses. In 2016 the LPGA tournament season purse total is almost $52 million, up from just over $41 million in 2010. So there’s more projected financial incentive for LPGA golfers to compete in the Olympics.
LPGA and PGA Olympic Selection Process
The IOC has restricted the International Golf Federation to an Olympic field of 60 golfers each from the PGA and LPGA. The IGF will make it’s selections from their world ranking system as of July 11. The top-15 world-ranked players will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from any given country.
Beyond these top 15, golfer eligibility will be based on their world ranking position with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15. The IGF has guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation Brazil and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) will qualify.
What becomes apparent right away for USA Men's Pro Golfers and South Korean Women's Pro Golfers is not all top ranked golfers from these countries will be competing in Rio. Dustin Johnson (ranked #1) and Jordan Spieth (ranked #3) from the USA have both declined IGF invitations citing Zika virus concerns. There are 6 LPGA golfers from South Korea in the Top 15 World Rankings. Only 4 of these golfers will receive IGF invitations based on their ranking. The resulting competition among Korean women pro golfers will be quite intense leading up to IGF selections.
PGA in the Olympics
So what country will be represented by a Gold Medalist from the men’s competition? Here is my projection, notwithstanding the cloudiness of who will accept invitations because of the Zika Virus threat.
USA Will Have Four in Rio
The IGF has invited Bubba Watson (ranked #5), Rickie Fowler (ranked # 7), Patrick Reed (ranked #14) and Matt Kucher (ranked #15) to play for USA in the Olympics. Patrick Reed and Matt Kucher were late additions to replace declined invitations to Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.
Bubba Watson is probably the most “natural” golfer on the tour. He is a long hitter and an incredible shot maker. He’s kind of a loner on the tour, and admits he has some psychological issues that make him a hard person to understand. His best friend on the tour is Rickie Fowler and Rickie will be one of the four American PGA golfers going to Rio. This should help Bubba play his best golf.
Rickie Fowler, Mr. Puma, has been a pretty steady golfer since turning pro in 2009, but his game has really come together since the 2014 season. On the small side at 5’ 9” and 150 lbs, he hits the ball pretty far with close to a 300 yard average off the tee. Known as somewhat of a prankster, he will keep the American PGA contingent loose in Rio.
Patrick Reed is a young and impetuous golfer who started his PGA career in 2011 after helping his college team win the NCAA Division 1 Championship for the second year in a row. His game has improved every year on the tour and he has scored in the top 10 in nine tournaments so far in 2016. He is a long hitter with excellent touch around the greens.
Matt Kucher is the senior member of the group having been on the tour since 2000. Retooling his golf swing in 2006 to better fit his tall frame, his game has steadily become much more competitive. In 2016 he is carrying the sixth ranked scoring average and is on the top 10 PGA Money List.
It is unfortunate that health risks in Rio are severe enough to cause some great golfers to decline IGF invitations to compete. The US still has the numbers, but obviously chances for a USA PGA Gold Medal have decrease a bit. But the US remains the only country on the PGA side to have the maximum allowable number of golfers (4) competing in Rio. For this reason the USA Flag is still the most likely flag to be flying on the Gold Medal platform in the coming Olympics.
LPGA in the Olympics
Like the USA on the PGA side, South Korea has the numbers. But that doesn’t make it as easy to make a prediction on what country I feel will be represented on the Gold Medal platform. As stated above, the LPGA seems to be embracing the coming Olympic competition more than the PGA, and there are some great golfers in the top 15 from countries other than South Korea.
Interestingly enough, two of these countries are New Zealand and Australia whose top LPGA golfer just happens to be Korean. This is a story for another time. The top LPGA golfer continues to be Lydia Ko from New Zealand. She ended the 2015 LPGA tour at the top of the world rankings and she is only 19 years old. She picked up where she left off here in 2016, holding a pretty commanding lead and has done so in a wire to wire manner so far. So the New Zealand flag could be flying on the Olympic Gold platform.
Then there is an even younger golfer from Canada who has been coming on strong in 2016, recently winning her first LPGA major tournament, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She did this by defeating Lydia Ko in a sudden death playoff. Annika Sorenstam has said that if there is a flaw in this 18 year olds game she can’t find it. Annika says Brooke Henderson is a natural golfer with good fundamentals who plays the game the way it is supposed to be played.
Brooke Henderson is holding down the runner up position in the World Golf Rankings, and recently won the Cambia Portland Classic for the second straight year. She is long off the Tee and an improving putting stroke give her a strong chance to bring home the Gold in Rio flying the Canadian Flag on the Olympic Gold platform.
South Korea Will Have Four in Rio
So, while I feel New Zealand and Canada have a good chance to be represented on the Olympic Gold platform, I still like the numbers for South Korea. Women’s golf in South Korea has grown immensely over the last 20 years becoming part of their national culture. South Korea consistently provides a steady stream of young, competitive golfers to the LPGA who are always highly ranked and are especially competitive at major LPGA tournaments.
LPGA golf in the Olympics is a major event, bigger in many respects than a major LPGA tournament. I expect the South Korean contingent to get tons of national support for competing in the Olympics. The competition between these gifted LPGA golfers from South Korea is very intense since there are easily 6 golfers who have been in the top 15 most of 2016 who are competing for the 4 Olympic invitations allowed per country.
The perceived value of competing in the Olympics varies depending on the country, but in South Korea there is no doubt. It is a matter of national pride to represent this little country in the Olympics. A gold medal winner from South Korea will likely receive a financial reward from their country. The most likely LPGA South Korean foursome contingent for the Olympics will be Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim, In Gee Chun, and Amy Yang.
Inbee is the senior member of this group and is playing in her World Golf Hall of Fame qualifying year. She’s not playing as many tournaments lately, because of a nagging thumb injury and recent back pain. If this causes her to decline the IGF invitation to compete, either Ha Na Jang or So Yeon Ryu will get an invitation depending on which of these golfers has the highest world ranking after the Women’s US Open Tournament.
So this is the environment that surrounds the lady pros from South Korea. Like the US PGA selections, South Korea will be the only country having the maximum number of Olympic competitors (4) for the LPGA competition. This is why I feel the most likely country to have their flag flying on the LPGA Gold platform is South Korea.
Golf In The Olympics
So there you have it … my predictions for what countries are most likely to bring home the gold for golf. It sure looks like the US has the best chance on the PGA side with four golfers highly ranked in IGF world rankings. The same applies to South Korea on the LPGA side with four top ranked golfers in IGF world rankings.
But anyone could get hot during these 3 days of competition in Rio so it will be fun to watch. It’s taken more than a 100 years for golf to make it back to this world wide venue, and it’s unfortunate that the outcome will be so clouded by the Zika virus and other health risks in Rio.
Golf belongs in the Olympics, if for no other reason PGA and LPGA golf have become so international in their make up. Yes these are Pro athletes, but for some sports that’s the only way to assure that the best in the world are competing. Traditional Olympic sports like track & field, swimming, gymnastics, and the winter events go through a grueling series of pre Olympic qualifications to determine who is the best.
So I’m ok with Pro athletes in the Olympics for this reason, and that certainly includes men and women’s golf. Yes … golf will be in the Olympics and that is as it should be.