With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021, OlympicTalk is taking a sport-by-sport look at where things stood before sports were halted and how global circumstances could alter the Olympic picture …
Who was in line to qualify for the Olympic men’s golf tournament before the coronavirus?
The Tokyo Olympic men’s and women’s golf fields were to be chosen from the world rankings after the men’s U.S. Open (men) and Women’s PGA Championship in June. Obviously that has all changed, but interesting storylines had developed in qualifying by mid-March.
The top men and near-locks to qualify for the 64-golfer field were Rory McIlroy (Ireland) and Jon Rahm (Spain). Americans took four of the next five spots, according to men’s golf rankings guru @VC606: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele.
The U.S. was the only nation to have the maximum four golfers. A nation can enter four if they’re all ranked in the top 15 in the world. Once past No. 15, a nation can have a maximum of two.
What about Tiger Woods?
Woods, though he won the 2019 Masters, dropped to 10th among Americans in Olympic qualifying in early March, according to @VC606.
He played just two events in the first two months of the season (not atypical for him), then didn’t enter March staples the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, reportedly due to his balky back.
The U.S. is so deep that current world No. 5 Dustin Johnson was not in Olympic qualifying position in early March (though Johnson said he would skip Tokyo this summer, before the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games). Also off the bubble: Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay and 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.
Which U.S. women were in line to qualify?
There were no ranking projections for June available like for the men, but the world rankings in March had Nelly Korda (world No. 2), Danielle Kang (No. 6) and Lexi Thompson (No. 9).
Korda, 21, is the daughter of 1998 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda and Czech Olympic tennis player Regina Rajchrtova. She ascended to No. 2 in February, matching the best ranking for a U.S. woman since Stacy Lewis‘ last week at No. 1 in 2014.
Thompson, who was as high as No. 2 in 2019, is the lone Rio Olympian of the U.S. trio in Olympic qualifying position in the March rankings. Ko Jin-Young of South Korea is No. 1, having won two majors in 2019.
Notably, neither Rio Olympic women’s or men’s gold medalist (Inbee Park, Justin Rose) was in qualifying position based on women’s rankings and men’s projections when sports were halted.
How does the Olympic postponement to 2021 change things?
Similar to tennis, it will all depend on when tournaments resume and what the cutoff date(s) will be to decide the Olympic fields.
The men’s and women’s golf rankings are frozen during the break, meaning older events whose ranking points would have fallen off in the two-year rankings window will temporarily stay on. But things could change once tournaments resume.
The longer the break, the more likely those older, 2018 tournaments will remain in the formula come 2021 if the decision-makers stick to having two full years of results make up the rankings. Older tournaments staying longer in the rankings could benefit Woods, whose top recent results were in late 2018 (PGA Championship runner-up, Tour Championship win) and early 2019 (Masters win).
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