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Thursday, 11 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Golf Preview
112 years later, golf returns to the Olympics


112 years...can you believe it?  The last time any golfer put on their nation's colors and walked the fairway, being called an Olympian.  With the rich history of the sport around the world, one would almost think golf would have been an Olympic sport for awhile.  Well, in Rio, in 2016, we welcome back the sport of golf to the Olympiad sporting family.

Now of course the welcome back party is a bit tainted with so many top athletes deciding to withdraw their Olympic spot, mostly due to the Zika virus threat.  On the men's side, the top 4 golfers in the world (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy) lead the absence list followed by fellow Top 10ers Adam Scott (8) and Braden Grace (10).  Overall, 21 top eligible golfers decided to skip the Olympics.  It is worth noting though, the Zika virus is said to live longer in semen than in blood thus causing more threat to a male golfer's partner and increasing the possibility of birth defects.  On the women's side, only 6 of the top eligible golfers will be absent from Rio and only 1 (Lee-Anne Pace, #39) ranks in the top 100.

Here is your quick #RioRewind history lesson on golf in the Olympics:

  • Golf has only been part of the Summer Olympics twice: 1900 and 1904.  2016 will bring the return of the sport to the Olympic agenda.
  • In 1900, men's and women's individual competitions were held.  Overall 22 golfers competed, including 12 men and 10 women.  Nations competing in 1900 included: France (9), USA (8), Great Britain (4) and Greece (1).  The USA swept the gold medals.
  • In 1904, the women's competition was dropped from the games.  Instead, a men's team event was added to the schedule.  The men's individual competition remained on the competition schedule.  Overall 77 golfers competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics but only 2 nations: Canada, USA.  The USA fielded a team of 74 golfers while Canada only had 3 golfers.  The USA swept the podium for the men's team event, seeing as they were the only nation competing of course. 
  • The last men's individual champion was Canada's George Lyon who upset the heavily favoured, and stacked competition, from the USA.
  • Only 5 nations have ever competed for golf gold in Olympics history, totalling 93 athletes.
  • In 2016, 41 nations will be competing.  60 players qualified in both the men's and women's individual events, with a limit of 4 golfers per country allowed.  The Top 15 golfers automatically qualified with remaining spots going to highest-ranked players from countries not already qualifying two golfers.  The USA leads the way with 7 golfers qualified (4 men, 3 women) and South Korea follows with 6 (2 men, 4 women).  A number of nations will field a team of 4 (2 men, 2 women) including: Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Thailand.
  • A few nations will only be sending 1 athlete to compete in golf.  On the men's side, those nations include: Bangladesh, Chile, Netherlands, Philippines and Venezuela.  On the women's side, nations include: Columbia, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Israel, Morocco and Russia.

History would have us believe the Americans are the favourites to stand atop the podium at the conclusion of both individual events and that may just happen.  However, even with the withdraw of many top players, there will still be a quality field competing in Rio and the #PodiumPush will be close for all 60 players.

All competitors will play a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament over the course of 4 days.  If there are any ties for any of the podium positions, a three-hole playoff will be used to decide the medal.

Let's get to the preview, starting with the men who open the golf competition August 11.

MEN

The Favourites

Sergio Garcia (ESP) - 29 career wins to his name, including 9 on the PGA Tour.  He has Top 4 finishes at all 4 majors, with his best recent result being T2 at the 2014 The Open Championship.  Garcia has represented Spain at the Ryder Cup numerous times and should be the best-suited to capitalise on the top players withdrawing from the competition.  He comes to Rio fresh off a PGA Tour win at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May.

Bubba Watson (USA) - Never discount a good leftie in the competition.  Bubba is a two-time Masters Champion (2012, 2014) and has 12 career wins, including 9 on the PGA Tour.  He struggled at the majors this year but does have a tour win to his credit as well (Northern Trust Open, February).

Justin Rose (GBR) - The 2013 U.S. Open major champion should be a strong medal threat in Rio.  He has 19 career wins under his belt, including 7 on the PGA Tour and 8 on the European Tour.  He finished T10 at the 2016 Masters after finishing runner-up in 2015.

Watch Out For

Rickie Fowler (USA) - Ranked 8th in the world, Fowler has been on a steady climb up the world rankings.  Known early on in his career for his bright flashy dress code more than his playing, the game has quickly caught up to him now and he is a medal threat in Rio.  He has 6 career wins, 3 on the PGA Tour.  His best result at a major was T2 at the 2014 US Open but struggled at the majors in 2016, missing the cut at The Masters and U.S. Open.  Expect to see Fowler rocking the all-orange look on Day 4, his usual wardrobe choice on the final day of a tournament.

Danny Willett (GBR) - The upstart 2016 Masters Champion could surprise the golfing world once again and make a run to gold in Rio.  He has 5 professional wins to his credit but only 1 on the PGA Tour.  Now mind you that 1 victory was at The Masters!!  He has struggled as the season continued on after his Masters win but never count out a major winner.

Henrik Stenson (SWE) - Speaking of major winners, how about the 2016 The Open Championship winner from Sweden!  Stenson has 19 career wins with 5 on the PGA Tour and 11 on the European Tour.  In addition to The Open Championship (which took place just 1 month ago), Stenson also won the BMW International Open at the end of June.  He will come to Rio playing some great rounds of golf.

The Dark Horses

Graham DeLaet (CAN) - The Canadian has quietly been moving up the PGA ranking in the past few years.  In 2013, he finished 21 on the money list.  In 2014, he finished 30th, which included 2 runner-up finishes.  2015 and the current 2016 season have not been his best but he could still make a surprise run in a round or two.  Competing for a medal for four full rounds might be tough but expect DeLaet to put up competitive rounds in at least the first two rounds.  If he can stay with the pack heading into the final day, who knows what will happen?

Martin Kaymer (GER) - The former #1 ranked player in the world back in 2011 has dropped off the rankings in the past few years.  But never underestimate him either.  Kaymer is a two-time major champion: Masters (2014) and PGA Championship (2010).  He has 22 career wins including 3 on the PGA Tour and 11 on the European Tour.  Remember he is only 31 years old and only turned professional in 2005.  He did lose his PGA Tour status for the 2015-16 season due to playing less than minimum for membership.  However, he comes to Rio fresh off a T7 result at the recent PGA Championship and could be a strong dark horse to upset the higher ranked golfers.

Jhonattan Vegas (VEN) - Another 31-year old who could surprise a few people over the course of 4 days in Rio.  Only turning professional in 2008, Vegas does have 5 career wins including 2 on the PGA Tour.  He just collected his second PGA Tour win at the end of July, winning the RBC Canadian Open.  His majors results have been inactive to be honest.  He has only competed in 3 majors since 2011: 2011 Masters (Cut), 2011 PGA Championship (T51) and 2016 PGA Championship (T22).  But notice that recent major result at the PGA Championship.  He will come to Rio with a bit of confidence.  He is the only golfer representing Venezuela.

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Sergio Garcia (ESP)
Silver - Henrik Stenson (SWE)
Bronze - Graham DeLaet (CAN)

WOMEN

The Favourites

Lydia Ko (NZL) - The #1 player in the world, probably on both the men's and women's tour to be honest.  She has been the hottest golfer in the world...and is only 19 years old!  She turned professional in 2013 and already has 19 (19!!) tour wins, including 14 on the LPGA Tour.  She is a two-time major champion as well: ANA Inspiration (2016) and Evian Championship (2015).  She is the youngest double major winner in the history of golf with the only other youngster being Tom Morris in 1869!  She can do it all.  The only concern for her gold medal win is her play has slipped a bit heading into the Rio competition.  She recently finished T40 at the Women's British Open major, her lowest major result since missing the cut at the 2015 Women's PGA Championship.

Brooke Henderson (CAN) - Ko is amazing at 19yo...what about 18yo Brooke Henderson?  She recently won her first major, the 2016 Women's PGA Championship, making her the youngest winner in the history of the event.  Henderson only turned professional in 2014 and has 8 career wins, including 3 on the LPGA Tour.  At the beginning of July she won her second event of the year, the Cambia Portland Classic.  She actually repeated this title as her first ever LPGA Tour win was the 2015 Cambia Portland Classic.  She is only the 3rd Canadian to win multiple LPGA events in the same season and should challenge Ko for the gold.

Inbee Park (KOR) - With all the attention being on the teenager sensations Ko and Henderson, Park could push through them both and steal the gold medal.  Park has finished in the Top 2 of the money list every year since 2012.  She is a 7-time major champion, recently winning the 2015 Women's PGA Championship and 2015 Women's British Open.  Park turned pro in 2006 and has 25 career win, 17 on the LPGA Tour.  The only discouraging comment against Park winning a medal is her recent play, missing the cut at the 2016 Women's PGA Championship and not playing the 2016 U.S. Women's Open and 2016 British Women's Open.  Worth noting, she is the youngest player to ever become LPGA Hall of Fame eligible (27 years old).

Watch Out For

Anna Nordqvist (SWE) - Finishing 2015 as the #13 ranked player in the world, Nordqvist may not generate a lot of buzz heading into the competition...and that could be the perfect strategy for her to find the podium.  The 2009 Women's PGA Championship winner has 9 career wins, 6 on the LPGA Tour.  She has put together a strong 2016, finished runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open (losing on a playoff to Brittany Lang) and winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June.

Shanshan Feng (CHN) - The 1st plyaer from China to become a member of the LPGA Tour in 2008, Feng won the 2012 Women's PGA Championship and finished 2015 as the #6 ranked golfer in the world.  Feng has 16 career wins, 4 on the LPGA Tour.  She had two Top 10 results in 2015 majors (T8th ANA Inspiration, 3rd The Evian Championship); however, she has struggled at the 2016 majors with her best result being T17 at the Women's PGA Championship and Women's British Open.

Lexi Thompson (USA) - The youngest golfer to ever qualify for the U.S Women's Open when she was 12 back in 2007, Thompson turned professional at the age of 15 in 2010.  She won her first major at the 2014 ANA Inspiration and has 10 career victories, 7 on the LPGA Tour.  She has collected a tournament win in 2016 (Honda LPGA Thailand) and has two Top 10 major finishes (5th ANA Inspiration, T8th Women's British Open).  She ended 2015 as the #4 ranked player in the world

The Dark Horses

Ariya Jutanugarn (THA) - The most recent major champion on tour, winning the 2016 Women's British Open.  Jutanugarn has the most attention outside the top contenders and has many people predicting her to find the podium in Brazil.  Turning pro in 2012, she has 5 career victories, 4 on the LPGA Tour.  Jutanugarn also finished 4th at the ANA Inspiration major and 3rd at the Women's PGA Championship earlier this season.  A podium result would be HUGE for her and Thailand.  She is already the first golfer, male or female, to win a major championship.

Chun In-gee (KOR) - The 2015 U.S. Women's Open Champion from South Korea may not have a ton of people talking about her entering the Rio competition but do not underestimate her potential for a #PodiumPush over the 4 days.  She comes to Rio fresh off a T8th finish at the Women's British Open and did finish T2nd at the ANA Inspiration major earlier in the year.  She has 12 career wins with 9 being on the LPGA of Korea Tour and 1 (her 2015 U.S. Women's Open major win) being on the LPGA Tour.

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Brooke Henderson (CAN)
Silver - Lydia Ko (NZL)
Bronze - Ariya Jutanugarn (THA)

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview
Beach Volleyball Preview
Women's Indoor Volleyball

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.