08/04/2016

Despite the Opening Ceremonies still being two days away, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro started Wednesday with a series of women’s soccer matches. If that seems anticlimactic, it should. In fact, the games as a whole have failed to draw the kind of excitement that made past Olympics must-watch affairs.

This is especially true in golf, a fact further burgeoned this week when one of the American players actually competing, Matt Kuchar, flat out didn’t know the format of the tournament. He’s far from alone in that regard.

But hey, Olympic golf is back for better or worse and some—some—serious players are headed to Brazil. The men’s tournament kicks off next Thursday with women teeing it up the following Wednesday.
Here are six things to watch for as golf makes its much celebrated return.

The Course

It was big news when noted architect Gil Hanse was handed the Rio job. He delivered a hybrid course at the edge of the city that is bold if nothing else. Golf hasn’t been there before. Why do something traditional? It’ll be interesting to see how the tournament plays out. The first, 10th and 18th holes are all par-5’s, which should add some excitement.

Maybe the wildlife will too.

Martin Kaymer

As wishy-washy as Jordan Spieth was in announcing he was skipping the Olympics, Martin Kaymer was equally as strong in his commitment.

“In my career I’ve only maybe twice, hopefully three times a chance to win a gold medal,” he said in January. “The majors, I will have a lot more. I have time to win one of those again. So this year I would definitely take the gold medal.”

Kaymer’s outlook is in sharp contrast to his fellow top players, but that’s the way he’s always been. The German has earned a reputation as a thoughtful man despite his robotic demeanor. Oh, and he’s suddenly playing well again. Kaymer’s T7 at last weekend’s PGA Championship was his best finish in a major since he blew away the field at the 2014 US Open.

Henrik Stenson

Speaking of guys who are playing well, Henrik Stenson, like Kaymer, committed to Rio long ago. He relishes the opportunity to represent his home nation of Sweden and will seek to build on the coveted title he won in July: Gold Medalist, Champion Golfer of the Year. At number five in the Official World Gold Rankings, Stenson is the highest ranked player headed to Rio and the prohibitive favorite. American golf fans will watch his and Kaymer’s performances a little closer than others’. It is a Ryder Cup year after all.

The American Contingent

It’s not quite our JV team, but these aren’t our best guys either. Neither Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson are in the field. On the other hand, the quartet in Brazil—Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar—share an intriguing quality: all four are outside automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup. Now, this isn’t really a news story. Of that group, only Kuchar is really on the outside looking in. But it will be curious to see how they respond given that in some ways, all have endured disappointing 2016’s.

The Ladies

You know how we’re all down the men’s field? The women have no such issue. Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, Amy Yang, Anna Nordqvist and Stacy Lewis will all tee it up in Rio. That’s an outrageous group of talent. Whereas the men’s tournament will be an afterthought in Olympics coverage, perhaps the women can take advantage of the wide swath of people that watch every event.

The Players’ Desire

Here’s the thing. On the PGA Tour, the difference between fourth place and 20th place is worth thousands of dollars. In the Olympics? Nothing. The problem with having a limited field in a stroke-play event is that you risk disinterest. A player that goes out and shoots 80 in the first round has no chance at winning the gold medal. There is no cut either. Suddenly the Olympic tournament becomes another practice round. This isn’t swimming, rowing, track & field or other events that have plenty of losers for lack of a better word. Golfers have jobs that pay them well within their sport. In other words, just competing for their countries may not be enough to drive their competitive spirit.