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Challenge for Olympic golf? Finding more medals

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — With Olympic golf qualifying starting next month, the sport assured a spot in the next two Olympics (and likely 2028 as well), and the U.S. Open happening at Shinnecock Hills this week, International Golf Federation executive director Antony Scanlon sat down to discuss the second modern edition of Olympic golf in 2020 and what officials hope(d) would be different than in Rio …

OlympicTalk: Take me through the process of deciding to keep the Olympic golf format unchanged from 2016 to 2020. Were there any changes floated around?

Scanlon: Three weeks after the Olympics, all of us got together at Hazeltine, at the Ryder Cup, and said all bets are off. Let’s look at everything. The first thing we looked at was are there any other opportunities for more Olympic medals? We looked at opportunities with team events and mixed team events, etc. Once you got down to the realities of trying to condense that into 16 days of Olympic competition, you’re pretty much constricted to a 72-hole stroke play for men and the ladies. To get the players buying on that, they liked the four rounds of stroke play to determine who the best champion was. They didn’t want to come up with some sort of tricky event just before that would affect their own individual events. We had great ideas, went to different players with it, especially those that had been to the Olympics, get their feedback. They said, stick with what we’ve got.

OlympicTalk: The IOC might have been pretty open to a mixed team event because they’ve been adding mixed-gender events in other sports to the Olympics.

Scanlon: They certainly would have supported it if we could have fit it into those 16 days, but as it is, it’s a lot of golf for the players when you add that plus a full, 72-hole stroke-play event, and then following that a Ryder Cup, etc., toward the end of the season it starts to become too much golf for the players. And we thought it was best to capitalize on the success of what we had in Rio, really, and take it from there.

OlympicTalk: Tim Finchem said shortly after Rio that he wanted to “tweak the format” of Olympic golf. Was a team event or mixed-gender event what he was talking about?

Scanlon: Yeah. That’s pretty much around the time we were all meeting and talking about it. That was the challenge we put ourselves, and we still actually have that challenge. And that is to look for ways for us to have more opportunities for medals for the athletes. That surge will continue beyond Tokyo and through to Paris. If we can come up with preserving the 72-hole stroke play, which the players really support, to some other event. One suggestion, and this would mean the IOC having to really rethink their policies, is similar to the men’s World Cup [of Golf], where you used to have a team event in addition to an individual event.

Editor’s Note: In this scenario, golfers would not play multiple tournaments at the Olympics. Rather, their scores from the individual event would also count toward a team event. This was the 2013 World Cup of Golf’s format.

But the IOC currently doesn’t loop two events into one. Well, there is with gymnastics [qualifying scores count for advancement into team and individual finals]. There is with equestrian, but they’re trying not to do that. But who knows? The IOC is also evolving. They’re talking about esports now. This [scores counting for individual and team events] could be one way. That is one avenue we would explore for Paris [2024], see if that’s possible.

OlympicTalk: What about the makeup of the fields? Did you look at trying to ask the IOC for more spots in each field, or changing qualifying to let more golfers in from the top countries like the U.S. and England?

Editor’s Note: The U.S. has five of the top nine golfers in the men’s world ranking. South Korea has six of the top 13 women. A country can’t qualify more than four golfers into either Olympic men’s or women’s tournament.

Scanlon: The Olympics is about participation as well as winning medals. I really think that in Rio we got the balance between diversity of field and strength of field really well. As it is, the IOC allows us to have four per country as a maximum, where normally it would be three. So we have an exception there, similar to tennis. So if we go back to Rio, we had a total of 41 countries out of 120 athletes that we had in both the men’s and women’s fields. That’s pretty diverse, and it was a strong field. If you start to trick it up and reduce the number of countries that are participating, I think it takes something away. And one of the reasons why we’re part of the Olympic program is to widen our engagement of our sport to a bigger audience, and that was shown in Rio.

We’d love more athletes, but the reality with the IOC is no. We have stick with the 60 that we have with men and women.

OlympicTalk: Did you ask the IOC if you could have more athletes?

Scanlon: We actually did that before even Rio. We were looking for a field of, I think, 85, and they made a blanket rule of keeping the numbers the way they are [for 2020]. And I can see why because after our request, they admitted five extra sports through the [Tokyo 2020] organizing committee, which added extra athletes. I can see why they capped us.

OlympicTalk: What about adding Paralympic golf?

Scanlon: We’re bidding for Paris, an opportunity to have lower-limb amputees participate. We had some very good meetings with the [International Paralympic Committee] and have great support from all of our national federations and IGF membership for that. Our bid goes in, I think, the ninth of July, and, hopefully, come January next year we’ll get some positive news on that.

OlympicTalk: What are your thoughts on turnout from the top golfers after so many skipped Rio?

Scanlon: We’re constantly talking throughout with player liaisons and directly to the agents and the players. The players that weren’t there in Rio, and the reasons for it, I think some of them now regret that. I think Tokyo is a different landscape. It’s in the second-largest golf nation in the world. I think there’s great opportunity for the profile of our athletes to take that opportunity of being in Tokyo with that audience. I don’t see anything prohibiting any of the players coming this time.

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Matt Hamilton uses Olympic curling gold medal as golf ball marker

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Matt Hamilton is squeezing every bit of value out of his Olympic curling gold medal.

Hamilton, while playing in this week’s Web.com Tour pro-am event, pulled out the medal to mark his golf ball on a green. Not only that, Hamilton was wearing a Team USA cap and clad in red, white and blue stars up and down his shirt and pants.

Also Thursday, Hamilton hit an errant ball that was returned to him by a local resident. Hamilton let the man hold his gold medal as he held a large soda cup but was adamant that he wouldn’t take his eyes off of it.

“I wouldn’t give this [medal] to my mom,” Hamilton said.

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MORE: Top moments from Team USA’s run to curling gold

How Olympic golf fields would look today

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With it being Masters week and the Olympic golf qualifying process remaining largely the same, according to Golf Channel, who would make the 60-golfer fields for Tokyo 2020 using today’s rankings?

Well, one of the six medalists from Rio, American bronze medalist Matt Kuchar, would not qualify outright if using the same maximum two-per-country rule (or up to four if inside the top 15 in world rankings).

Tiger Woods has posted impressive early comeback results from major back surgery but, at No. 103, is 95 places shy of making a U.S. team outright.

Woods would make a hypothetical Olympic field today if he was from any country except the U.S., Spain, Great Britain, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Ireland, South Korea and India.

That all said, none of the results that went into today’s rankings (nor this weekend’s Masters results) will play any part in Olympic golf qualification, which go by the rolling, two-year world rankings in June 2020.

A look at the fields today if using the same system as for Rio 2016:

Men
1. Dustin Johnson (USA-1)
2. Justin Thomas (USA-2)
3. Jon Rahm (ESP-1)
4. Jordan Spieth (USA-3)
5. Justin Rose (GBR-1)
6. Hideki Matsuyama (JPN-1)
7. Rory McIlroy (IRL-1) — Said in 2017 he will likely skip the Olympics
8. Rickie Fowler (USA-4)
9. Sergio Garcia (ESP-2)
10. Jason Day (AUS-1)
11. Tommy Fleetwood (GBR-2)
12. Paul Casey (GBR-3)
13. Henrik Stenson (SWE-1)
14. Alex Noren (SWE-2)
15. Marc Leishman (AUS-2)
16. Francesco Molinari (ITA-1)
17. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA-1)
18. Louis Oosthuizen (RSA-1)
19. Branden Grace (RSA-2)
20. Li Haotong (CHN-1)
21. Adan Hadwin (CAN-1)
22. Thomas Pietres (BEL-1)
23. Satoshi Kodaira (JPN-2)
24. Siwoo Kim (KOR-1)
25. Jhonattan Vegas (VEN-1)
26. Bernd Wiesberger (AUT-1)
27. Alexander Levy (FRA-1)
28. Emiliano Grillo (ARG-1)
29. Shubhankar Sharma (IND-1)
30. Joost Luiten (NED-1)
31. Paul Dunne (IRL-2)
32. Byeong Hun An (KOR-2)
33. Anirban Lahiri (IND-2)
34. Martin Kaymer (GER-1)
35. Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN-1)
36. Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR-1)
37. Victor Dubuisson (FRA-2)
38. Ryan Fox (NZL-1)
39. Graham Delaet (CAN-2)
40. Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL-2)
41. Jazz Janewattananond (THA-2)
42. Soren Kjeldsen (DEN-2)
43. Renato Paratore (ITA-2)
44. Danny Lee (NZL-2)
45. Gavin Green (MAS-1)
46. C.T. Pan (TPE-1)
47. Abraham Ancer (MEX-1)
48. Tapio Pulkkanen (FIN-1)
49. Mikko Korhonen (FIN-2)
50. Alex Cejka (GER-2)
51. Scott Vincent (ZIM-1)
52. Andres Romero (ARG-2)
53. Miguel Tabuena (PHI-1)
54. Xinjun Zhang (CHN-2)
55. Rafael Campos (PUR-1)
56. Jose de Jesus Rodriguez (MEX-2)
57. Juvic Pagunsan (PHI-2)
58. Adison da Silva (BRA-1)
59. Juan Sebastian Munoz (COL-1)
60. Ricardo Gouveia (POR-1)
Notables missing: Phil Mickelson (USA-6), Bubba Watson (USA-7), Matt Kuchar (USA-8), Tiger Woods (USA-51), Adam Scott (AUS-4), Ian Poulter (GBR-5), Padraig Harrington (IRL-4), Vijay Singh (FIJ-1, ranked No. 518, cutoff is No. 386).

Women
1. Shanshan Feng (CHN-1)
2. Lexi Thompson (USA-1)
3. Inbee Park (KOR-1)
4. Sung Hyun Park (KOR-2)
5. So Yeon Ryu (KOR-3)
6. Ariya Jutanugarn (THA-1)
7. I.K. Kim (KOR-4)
8. Anna Nordqvist (SWE-1)
9. Cristie Kerr (USA-2)
10. Jessica Korda (USA-3)
11. Michelle Wie (USA-4)
12. Brooke Henderson (CAN-1)
13. Lydia Ko (NZL-1)
14. Minjee Lee (AUS-1)
15. Moriya Jutanugarn (THA-2)
16. Charley Hull (GBR-1)
17. Carlota Ciganda (ESP-1)
18. Ai Suzuki (JPN-1)
19. Pernilla Lindberg (SWE-2)
20. Georgia Hall (GBR-2)
21. Teresa Lu (TPE-1)
22. Suzann Pettersen (NOR-1)
23. Nasa Hataoka (JPN-2)
24. Caroline Masson (GER-1)
25. Katherine Kirk (AUS-2)
26. Karine Icher (FRA-1)
27. Azahara Munoz (ESP-2)
28. Wei-Ling Hsu (TPE-2)
29. Aditi Ashok (IND-1)
30. Nicole Larsen (DEN-1)
31. Haruka Morita-WanyaoLu (CHN-2)
32. Sandra Gal (GER-2)
33. Ashleigh Simon (RSA-1)
34. Alena Sharp (CAN-2)
35. Anne Van Dam (NED-1)
36. Gaby Lopez (MEX-1)
37. Nanna Koerstz Madsen (DEN-2)
38. Lee-Anne Pace (RSA-2)
39. Celine Boutier (FRA-2)
40. Laura Gonzalez Escallon (BEL-1)
41. Olafia Kristinsdottir (ISL-1)
42. Klara Spilkova (CZE-1)
43. Mariajo Uribe (COL-1)
44. Laetitia Beck (ISR-1)
45. Ursula Wikstrom (FIN-1)
46. Marianne Skarpnord (NOR-2)
47. Valdis Thora Jonsdottir (ISL-2)
48. Giulia Molinaro (ITA-1)
49. Ana Menendez (MEX-2)
50. Noora Tamminen (FIN-2)
51. Christine Wolf (AUT-1)
52. Sarah Schober (AUT-2)
53. Tiffany Chan (HKG-1)
54. Stephanie Meadow (IRL-1)
55. Maha Haddioui (MAR-1)
56. Daniela Darquea (ECU-1)
57. Diana Luna (ITA-2)
58. Dottie Ardina (PHI-1)
59. Kelly Tan (MAS-1)
60. Yuka Saso (PHI-2)
Notables missing: Stacy Lewis (USA-6), Paula Creamer (USA-32), Karrie Webb (AUS-6), Yani Tseng (TPE-7).

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