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Michael Phelps follows protege Jordan Spieth at PGA Championship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If Jordan Spieth needs some help with the mental aspect of his game during this pressure-packed week of golf, he knows exactly where to turn.

Michael Phelps is right there for him.

Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medalist who knows a thing or two about performing at his best under crushing pressure, spent Thursday following Spieth around Quail Hollow during the first round of the PGA Championship. The 24-year-old Spieth is looking to become the youngest player to win golf’s career Grand Slam.

Spieth was thrilled to have Phelps inside the ropes with him.

“He’s become a good friend and even a mentor,” Spieth said. “That’s pretty awesome to have a mentor like that.”

Phelps and his wife Nicole Johnson followed Spieth, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Masters champion Sergio Garcia for most of the round, mostly staying out of the way but always visible.

It’s not the first time Phelps has shadowed Spieth around the course.

Phelps, an avid golfer, struck up a friendship with Spieth last year in Phoenix through their mutual sponsor, Under Armour. They’ve hung out together in Cabo San Lucas, where they had a photo taken with former NBA great Michael Jordan, golfer Fred Couples and NFL players Russell Wilson and Dwight Freeney.

Phelps has also tweeted well wishes to Spieth after his victories.

“We have had dinner and talked through a lot of things,” Spieth said.

Spieth said the specifics of those conversations are private, but said the conversations focused around “a lot of mental approach and preparation and stuff.”

Phelps did not speak to reporters on Thursday.

Spieth said at a post-round press conference at the British Open that he felt like he could call Phelps any time for advice — and that he’d be doing himself a disservice if he didn’t, given Phelps’ past success in swimming.

He might need some of Phelps’ advice on the mental part of the game if his putting doesn’t improve on Friday.

Normally one of the game’s best on the greens, Spieth said he “can’t putt any worse” than he did on Thursday. Still, he avoided big mistakes and rallied with birdies on two of the final three holes to shoot a 1-over 72, leaving him five shots behind early leader Thorbjorn Olesen.

Phelps, who was recently seen racing simulated sharks on the Discovery Channel, joked around with Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller on the first hole. Spieth said it helped ease the tension.

“He kept it light,” Spieth said.

Spieth said he was delighted when Phelps texted and told him he would be in Charlotte for the PGA Championship because of a sponsorship commitment.

Phelps isn’t the only celebrity who has been in town for the city’s first major championship.

Singer Justin Bieber attended the practice rounds earlier in the week, while Darius Rucker performed in the area on Wednesday night and was joined on stage by 1991 PGA champion John Daly. Roy Williams, the coach of the defending national champion North Carolina men’s basketball team, was also seen at the first round on Thursday.

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VIDEO: Phelps loses Shark Week ‘race’ to great white

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement