The decision to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics has sent a ripple effect across the sports world and the game of golf will certainly be impacted.
Tuesday’s announcement that the Tokyo games would be postponed to no later than the summer of 2021 will create some logistical hurdles for golf. The men’s and women’s golf competitions were set to take place July 30-August 8 at Kasumigaseki Country Club in the suburbs of Tokyo. With the Olympics being pushed back a year, two questions immediately arise: 1) What will qualifying for 2021 look like? And, 2) how will the 2020 professional golf schedule be impacted?
When it comes to qualifying, spots in the Olympic competition were determined by the Official World Golf Rankings for men, and the Rolex rankings for women. The top-15 ranked players earned automatic spots into the competition with a maximum of four players from one country. The remainder of the 60-player field would be filled by going down the rankings list with a two player max for countries that did not have two or more players in the top-15 rankings.
With the official rankings on hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States currently had 7 golfers qualified. Four men: Brooks Koepka (3), Justin Thomas (4), Patrick Cantlay (7) and Patrick Reed (7). Dustin Johnson, who is currently ranked fifth in the world, recently announced he planned to skip the Olympic competition.
Three women: Nelly Korda (2), Danielle Kang (5) and Lexi Thompson (9) were currently set to qualify.
Men’s qualifying was scheduled to end June 22 and women's qualifying June 29. How the postponement will affect those dates remains to be seen, but one would think that with the Summer Games being pushed back until next summer, those qualifying deadlines would also be extended.
One player who could benefit from the postponement is Tiger Woods. Tiger, who has expressed interest in representing the U.S. at the Olympics, is currently on the outside looking in. Woods is ranked 11th in the world and is the seventh ranked American player, meaning it was highly unlikely he was going to qualify for Tokyo 2020, especially given he hasn’t played since mid-February because of a stiff back.
As for the schedule, the PGA Tour and LPGA will be forced to adjust in 2021, but the postponement may afford them some flexibility in rescheduling major championships in 2020, when and if we get back to normal.
The men’s game has already postponed the Masters and PGA Championship, with the U.S. Open in June hanging on by a thread. The week vacated by the Olympics could allow one of those majors to be played in late July or early August. Presumably, that would be the PGA Championship, which was scheduled for May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. Rumors have already circulated about playing the Masters in early October.
The first major of the year on the women’s calendar, the ANA Inspiration previously scheduled for April 2-5, was already rescheduled for September 17-20. The next major on the calendar is the U.S. Women’s Open set for June 4-7 in Houston. The Olympic gap would allow the LPGA to move one of its three postponed events or move the U.S. Women’s Open if required.
Overall, the postponement of the Olympics, like much of the aftershocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to more uncertainty. The game of golf certainly isn’t immune to that.