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Dustin Johnson, world No. 5 golfer, reconsiders Olympic stance

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Dustin Johnson, who had ruled out playing in the Olymipcs in 2020, will reconsider playing the Olympics in 2021, should the PGA Tour schedule be more accommodating to flying to Tokyo in between top-flight summer tournaments.

Johnson opened the door in comments Wednesday, three months after taking himself out of contention for a 2020 Olympic spot due to scheduling. Much changed in the time in between, namely the coronavirus pandemic postponing the Tokyo Games to summer 2021.

“Obviously, I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics. Never really thought golf would be in it,” Johnson said. “It’s something that, yeah, I’ll definitely have to consider.”

The 2021 PGA Tour schedule has not been released.

Back in March, Johnson ruled out the 2020 Olympics, citing focus on the FedEx Cup Playoffs that would have started two weeks after the Olympic tournament in August.

“Dustin gave the Olympics a great deal of thought, and we discussed the pros and cons of him participating at length,” Johnson’s manager said in a March email, according to Golfweek. “At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference and priority. As much as he would be honored to be an Olympian, the FedEx Cup Playoffs are also very important to him. Having had a few close calls in the Playoffs, he really wants to win them before his time is done and feels that he wouldn’t be giving himself the best opportunity to do so if he added a lengthy international trip just prior to their beginning (and shortly after returning from two weeks in Europe).”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics in January, saying it’s not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

The top four Americans in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) after the U.S. Open in June 2021 are in line to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. In Olympic qualifying standings, Johnson ranks 15th among Americans, according to rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Johnson’s win at the February 2019 WGC-Mexico Championship and runners-up at the April 2019 Masters and May 2019 PGA Championship (his last top-five finish anywhere) count for more in the current OWGR than in Olympic qualifying.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

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Olympic golf qualifying shifts, as do the projected fields

Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka
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When golf resumes, Tiger Woods must climb to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. As does Brooks Koepka.

The International Golf Federation announced Wednesday that the cutoff dates to choose the Olympic men’s and women’s golf fields will shift from June 2020 to June 2021. It was an expected move, given the Tokyo Games were also moved back exactly one year.

Now that the IGF decision is official, the previously projected Olympic golf fields can be ripped up. Six major tournaments are scheduled from now until the end of Olympic qualifying, which will jumble the world rankings.

A caveat: We don’t know when the world rankings will be unfrozen to restart the rolling, two-year window of results that make up the standings.

The PGA Tour is scheduled to resume in June, so that is an option. Rankings officials haven’t speculated. But men’s world rankings guru @VC606 put up a new Olympic men’s golf field projection for that very scenario.

It’s a projection that would include fewer than half of the available Olympic qualifying points, given more than one year of tournaments will still need to be played, and more weight is given to 2021 events than 2019 or 2020.

But, the projection offers a shake-up in the four Americans currently in Olympic qualifying position. The U.S. has 12 of the world’s top 18 at the moment, but no more than four golfers can qualify for the Olympics per nation per gender.

The U.S. Olympic qualifying leaders, in order, before sports were halted in March: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele.
Qualifying leaders if rankings unfreeze in June, according to @VC606: Patrick Reed, Thomas, Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau.

Why the change?

Koepka’s 2018 PGA Championship would no longer count for Olympic qualifying. His sterling results in 2019 majors, which would have counted significant Olympic qualifying points for a Tokyo Games in 2020, lost a lot of weight for an Olympics in 2021 given they will no longer be very recent in a rolling, two-year window. So Koepka, whose last top-20 PGA Tour finish was in July, drops to No. 8 in U.S. Olympic qualifying standings.

Woods, who was 10th in U.S. Olympic qualifying in early March, is now 12th. Like Koepka, his 2019 Masters title loses weight with the Olympics pushed back a year.

But the extra year should help Woods, who if sports weren’t halted likely needed to win the originally scheduled Masters, PGA or U.S. Open for a chance to get into a 2020 Olympic field. If the revised schedule holds up, he gets six chances for an Olympic qualifying boost at majors, including two at Augusta National.

Reed, a Rio Olympian, jumped from fifth among Americans in early March to first. Why? A strong start to 2020, including a win at the WGC-Mexico Championship in February. That result will not carry as much weight come June 2021, but for now, as one of the most recent top-level events, it’s very significant.

MORE: Who is @VC606?

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Tiger Woods, Rio gold medalists needed a boost to make 2020 Olympics. What about 2021?

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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 ReedPatrick Cantlay and 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.

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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 ParkJustin 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).

MORE: Japan’s top golfer finds ties to Tokyo Olympics beyond the obvious

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