golf

Getty Images

U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

Leave a comment

A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral

Tiger Woods back in contention for Olympic golf qualification

Leave a comment

Tiger Woods moved to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) with his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title, but he must still climb to get into the 2020 Olympic golf field.

Woods, by winning the Zozo Championship in the Olympic host nation of Japan on Monday, moved from 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying standings to fifth, according to golf rankings guru Nosferatu on Twitter.

The top four Americans in the top 15 of the OWGR on June 22 will qualify for the Tokyo Games. If Woods was from any other nation, he would be in the provisional Olympic golf field. But the U.S. will be the toughest team to make, and he is one spot off the bubble at the moment.

Woods is now the No. 4 American in the OWGR, but those rankings are different from the Olympic qualifying standings. The current OWGR includes points from a number of tournaments that will not be part of the June 22 ranking.

The OWGR is made up of a two-year, rolling window of results, giving the most weight to the most recent results and the strongest fields.

So, even though Woods picked up a bevy of points for his 2018 Tour Championship and 2019 Masters titles, the points from both of those wins will decrease sharply as June 22 approaches. He must continue racking up points in the first half of 2020.

Woods, due largely to his injury history, plays the fewest events of the U.S. Olympic hopefuls, minimizing his opportunities to pick up crucial ranking points. He underwent a fifth left knee surgery in August. Zozo was his first official tournament in two months and his 13th for 2019.

In U.S. Olympic qualifying, he trails Brooks KoepkaJustin ThomasPatrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson, according to Nosferatu. Those four golfers have each played at least 18 events in 2019.

Woods has more 2019 wins than Cantlay, but Cantlay has more top-12 finishes in the last year than Woods has total starts. Likewise, neither Thomas nor Johnson won a major in 2019, but both racked up top-10s in events that Woods did not enter.

“Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part,” Woods said in May, when he was in Olympic qualifying position via the Masters win. “How many events — how many events do I play, do I add a couple more to get in? These are all questions that will be answered going forward. I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, things will take care of itself.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps details Masters experience

Hideki Matsuyama, Japan’s top golfer, finds ties to Tokyo Olympics beyond the obvious

Hideki Matsuyama
Getty Images
Leave a comment

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Should Hideki Matsuyama return to Kasumigaseki Country Club for the Tokyo Olympic golf tournament next year, he will be in familiar surroundings.

Matsuyama will go to the Games as one of Japan’s most recognizable Olympians, even if he may not be its most recognizable golfer. He will go to Kasumigaseki and be reminded of where it began.

In 2010, an 18-year-old Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur Championship at Kasumigaseki.

“Now I’m in the Masters,” Matsuyama, then a rising Tohoku Fukushi University sophomore, said that day, noting having watched Phil Mickelson win his third Masters earlier that year. “So that’s very exciting.”

Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese amateur to qualify for the Masters with that victory, went on to match Mickelson in 27th place at Augusta National the following April. That meant he joined Mickelson in Butler Cabin afterward as the low amateur for the tournament.

The first question to Matsuyama that evening, in his first live interview on major-network U.S. television, was about recent earthquakes in Japan. That included one off the Tohoku coast, the largest in the nation’s history, that killed more than 15,000 people. (The Tokyo 2020 torch relay will start in Fukushima, an area affected by that 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The first event of the Games next year will also be held in Fukushima.)

“There’s some hard times right now in Japan,” Matsuyama said then through translator Allen Turner, who is part of an American father-son combination that has managed Japan sports icons. “Hopefully, my play was able to bring some encouragement to those who are in need.”

Matsuyama was at a training camp in Australia at the time of the earthquake.

He returned to find his dorm room ravaged — his college hometown of Sendai “devastated beyond imagination” — and struggled to find food. He debated whether to play the Masters, a tournament he dreamed of since his first golf memories — watching replays of Tiger Woods‘ win in 1997.

“I have decided to play because so many people have pushed me; the people at my university who have suffered, and my teammates and my parents, who made me start to play the sport of golf,” he said before the tournament, later noting he planned to volunteer in recovery efforts upon returning home after the event.

Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur again in 2011, played the Masters again in 2012 and turned pro in 2013 while still a Tohoku student. In two weeks, he will mark six straight years as Japan’s top-ranked golfer, reaching as high as No. 2 in the world after his 2017 U.S. Open runner-up.

He’s expected to easily qualify as one of Japan’s two male golfers for the Tokyo Games. He’s been ranked in the top 30 since 2013, and no other countryman is in the current top 70.

It would be Matsuyama’s Olympic debut. He joined the horde of male golfers who skipped the Rio Games while citing Zika virus concerns. It was especially concerning for those who might start families, and Matsuyama’s wife gave birth in July 2017.

But he simply cannot pass up next summer’s opportunity. Matsuyama, who counts sponsors Lexus, Srixon, ANA, Oakley and Nomura Securities, must wear a baseball cap and keep his head down in Japanese airports, said his manager, Bob Turner (the other half of that father-son duo).

“I don’t know the numbers on how well-known an athlete, but he can’t walk down the street or go shopping or anything like that,” said Turner, who formerly worked with Ichiro Suzuki and Matsuyama’s Japanese predecessors on the PGA Tour.

A spring 2018 survey published by Central Research Services in Japan showed that Matsuyama was Japan’s fifth-most popular active athlete, trailing baseball players Shohei Ohtani and Ichiro, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu and tennis player Kei Nishikori. Not that he cares about such things.

“We don’t know much about him, quite frankly,” said Reiko Takekawa, who covers golf for Kyodo News and is one of more than a dozen Japanese media members following him at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. “As far as I know, he’s a funny guy. Basically, he doesn’t talk much, even in Japanese.”

“The Mysterious Matsuyama,” a Golf.com headline read in 2017, leading with his love of sake, which became Matsuyama’s refrain when asked his interests outside golf. Takekawa said that Ryo Ishikawa, nicknamed the Bashful Prince and often compared to Rickie Fowler for his style, is more familiar to the average Japanese despite having a career-high rank of 29 and a current one of 253.

“The women like [Ishikawa],” Takekawa said, noting that Ishikawa has played more on Japan’s domestic tour than Matsuyama. “Hideki is really favored by the golf fans because he’s good. If you really don’t know the golf, somebody may not know him.”

Matsuyama respects the Olympics. He remembers Naoko Takahashi winning the marathon in Sydney in 2000. He’ll never forget when Japan captured the men’s gymnastics team title at the 2004 Athens Games, its first since a dynastic reign from 1960-76.

“The NHK TV announcer, his words still resonate with me,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter.

Matsuyama recalls when Tokyo was awarded the Games in an IOC vote over Madrid and Istanbul on Sept. 8, 2013. He earned his third tournament title as a professional later that day.

Matsuyama acknowledges that if he’s playing poorly next summer, the pressure come the Games will be heavy. But he also knows that most other Olympians are in a different place. He didn’t grow up dreaming of an Olympic gold medal, because golf wasn’t re-added to the Games until 2016.

“We have four majors every year that we try to peak for. The Olympic athletes, it’s once every four years, so I just can’t imagine the preparation, the training, all they put in for that one chance to win the gold medal,” he said. “I respect what they do very much.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tiger Woods’ most difficult quest yet will be Olympics