Damien Kayat previews the Olympic men’s golf tournament.
2020 Summer Olympics
Men’s Olympic Golf
Kasumigaseki Country Club, Saitama, Japan
29th July- 1st August
This year’s Olympic golf is off to a catastrophic start without a ball being hit in earnest. Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau- widely considered potential medallists this year- have been forced to withdrawal due to positive Covid tests. Jon Rahm must be wondering what the golfing gods have against him (the Muirfield heartache must still be a source of frustration for the burly Spaniard). That being said, this year’ 60-man Olympic field is far deeper than Rio. This will only be the 4th Olympic golfing event. Starting in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, golf originally awarded medals for both individuals and teams. The event was yanked from the Olympic roster prior to the 1908 London Games, with an internal dispute amongst British golfers the root cause. A more streamlined golf returned to the 2016 Rio Olympics, with only individual medals being handed out to both men and women. The tournament hasn’t lured everyone, with the likes of DJ and Koepka choosing to prioritize the already hectic tour schedule.
This week’s event has an air of mystery surrounding it. An hour north of the Olympic Village, Kasumigaseki Country Club is a typical Japanese tree-lined parkland course. But it last hosted a competitive event back in 2010, with Japanese megastar Hideki Matsuyama winning the Asian Amateur by a whopping eleven shots. Tom Fazio and his son Logan have underseen extensive changes to the Bentgrass greens. For some unknown reason the holes use to have multiple greens. Now they possess huge undulating ones: three-putt avoidance could be a useful stat here. There are some scoring holes around here, with four par 4’s measuring under 400 yards. But they are counterbalanced by some massive holes (two of the par 5’s measure over 625 yards while three of the par 4’s are over 500). The greens are well protected and will require surgical iron shots.
60 players will tee it up this week in Tokyo. Patrick Reed (Captain America himself) was more than keen to answer the Olympic call following DeChambeau’s withdrawal. He will join Morikawa, Schauffele and Thomas in a formidable US quartet (despite the absence of both DJ and Koepka). Rory McIlroy needs a pick-me-up. A Ryder Cup stalwart, Rory could draw on some of those memoires as he aims to propel Ireland towards a medal. Hideki Matsuyama will obviously be front-and-centre as Japan’s gold medal hopeful. The delirium will unfortunately be nullified by the lack of fans. That may actually work in Matsuyama’s favour. Elsewhere, the likes of Viktor Hovland and Cam Smith have been in excellent form. Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes have been exceptional of late, allowing Canadian golf to briefly escape the prodigious shadow of their North-American neighbours. I just have to mention Sung-Jae Im and Si Woo Kim. They will be more motivated than anyone this week, as there is mandatory military service for men in South Korea. Winning an Olympic Medal is like winning a Wonka’s Golden Ticket (it is one of the few ways to dodge this service). They both actually skipped the Open as preparation for this event.
2016 Rio Olympics
Gold Medal: Justin Rose
Silver Medal: Henrik Stenson
Bronze Medal: Matt Kuchar
Betting Favourites (To Win): Collin Morikawa (7/1), Xander Schauffele (9/1), Justin Thomas (10/1), Rory McIlroy (11/1), Hideki Matsuyama (12/1)
Paul Casey- To Win (12/1), To Place (26/10)
Can Paul Casey emulate his good friend Justin Rose and win Great Britain’s 2nd consecutive gold medal? Yes, Paul Casey doesn’t win enough golf tournaments. He and Louis Oosthuizen are the biggest culprits in that regard. But it may prove easier in a 60-man field. Casey has long been one of the best ball strikers in golf. He should be able to avoid most of the bunker danger with his accurate long iron-play. Casey has been in low-key brilliant form. He has four top 15’s in his last five starts. In fact, he has three top 7’s in that run. That includes a tie for 4th at the PGA Championship and a tie for 7th at the US Open.
Garrick Higgo- To Win (45/1), To Place (19/2)
This one is certainly not based on recent form: Higgo has actually missed four of his last five cuts. But I think that the South African could shake off the cobwebs this week. Being from South Africa, Higgo should be able to manage the expected heat and humidity. Prior to his recent downturn, Higgo had won three times in his last six events. He has conquered both the US and European Tours and he could be an interesting dark horse this week.
The Man to Beat- Justin Thomas- To Win (10/1), To Place (22/10)
Until being displaced by Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas was long considered the best iron player in the world. He has gone slightly off the boil this year, but I still believe that the Players Champ has what it takes to win this year. He simply loves Fazio designs/redesigns. He won at the redesigned Quail Hollow under Major Championship years. He also won the last ever WGC event held at Firestone. He is also a past-master of no-cut events. Of his 14 career wins, nine have come without a cut line. During that run, he has managed to win three no-cut events in Asia.