Rio 2016 - Olympic Golf Preview

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to reinstate golf back into the Olympics for the 2016 and 2020 summer games for the first time since 1904. On the 11th of July 2016, players were eligible to play according to the International Golf Federation (IGF) rules: top-15 world-ranked players with a limit of four players from a given country and any two players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15. Furthermore, the IGF has guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) will qualify, resulting in a wide range of countries participating in the event.

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott to name a few all cited the Zika virus epidemic as the reason they would not be competing. However, it has been reported that the big names within the game do not class the Olympics as important to their season or career goals.

Number of male golfers from each country participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics: Red (4) Blue (2) Yellow (1) Grey (None)

Number of female golfers from each country participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics: Red (4) Purple (3) Blue (2) Yellow (1) Grey (None)

The Olympic Golf field has been restricted to 60 players - which is much less than the majority of professional events for both the men’s and women’s tour. Both men and women will play a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament under the official rules of golf, keeping in tradition with the mainstream of all professional golf events. In the occasion of a tie for any of the first three positions, a three-hole playoff will conclude the medal winners, proposing a likely chance we will witness a play-off.

The Rio de Janeiro Olympic golf course has been built specifically for the Olympics golf event, and will play an important role in showcasing the game to the world. As a Par 71 at 7,128 yards for men and 6,245 yards for women, this is relatively short by modern standards. Factor in no rough or trees and we should see a very low winning total in both events.

With the same course designer as Castle Stuart, Scotland, it has been compared to that of a links/sandbelt style and will rely on wind and firm and fast conditions as its defence. Nevertheless, the final three holes have been created in a way to provide great risk reward and could provide great drama in-keeping with traditional Olympic events.

A total of 33 different countries are participating in the men’s event with an average world ranking of 134th. Great Britain leads the way with an average of 11th in Danny Willett and Justin Rose followed closely by the USA with an average of 12th. This is all the more impressive taking into account they are the only country with more than two players (four total). Both Henrik Stenson (5th) and Sergio Garcia (11th) increase their countries average world rankings, sitting them in 3rd and 4th respectively.

As a result, it is hard to look past the USA as the main competitors to take one of the medals with GB, Spain and Sweden being further favourites.

A total of 35 different countries are participating in the women’s event with an average world ranking of 164th. New Zealand are ranked 1st due to Lydia Ko being world number one and the only New Zealand female golfer competing. However, Korea has an average of 7th with the maximum of four golfers competing, followed by USA who rank 9th with a total of three players. Similar to the men’s event, it is highly likely these two countries will be the main competitors for the medals.

Notably, the women’s event have nine of their world’s top 10 players participating in the Olympics, compared to just four in the men’s. Additionally, the women have 15 players compared to 11 in the world’s top 50 (11 to 50). However, the men have more players in the next three categories (world rankings 50 to 100, 101 to 200 & 201 to 300), suggesting that the men’s tournament is not as highly participated with the world’s best players compared to the women’s, and further demonstrates the big names removing themselves from the competition.

Nevertheless, the women’s event contains more players ranked from 401 to 600, suggesting the diversity of nations is lacking due to the fact that the higher world ranked players originate from the same countries and are ineligible for qualification. This is evident with Korea, USA and Japan.

With all this in mind, the question is, has the IGF made the correct decision when making the event the same as any other traditional professional golf tournament when trying to showcase the game of golf to new world wide audiences on its return to the games… only time will tell.