Unlike other sports where athletes had already qualified, golf was not thrown into any significant chaos when the Olympics were postponed until 2021 because of the new coronavirus.
Eligibility for each country is determined by the world ranking about a month before the start of competition. The ranking was frozen during the shutdown in golf, and one can only speculate when the sport will resume. Justin Thomas said he was “bummed” to hear about the postponement, though he understood and said it was the right decision.
“Whenever it’s played, it’ll be great and I hope I’m a part of the team,” Thomas said in a text message on Tuesday.
Antony Scanlon, executive director of the International Golf Federation, said from his home in Switzerland the news was too fresh to determine the next step. It’s likely that whenever the Olympics are scheduled, the cut-off for the world ranking will be set accordingly.
The question going forward is which players it helps or hurts. And that starts with Tiger Woods, whom Olympic organisers would love to see in Tokyo chasing a gold medal.
Woods was No. 4 among Americans going into the year (as many as four players from a country are eligible if all are in the top 15) but has slipped to No. 6 after playing only twice this year. He has said his back wasn’t ready to play in Mexico City and at Bay Hill and The Players. And now there’s no golf for at least two months.
That wouldn’t have helped his chances. Now he gets another year. He’ll also be another year older, 45, and Woods already is starting to reduce his schedule.
Brooks Koepka was leaning against the Olympics because of the slow start to his season brought on by injury. Now he might rethink the schedule depending on where the Olympics fall in 2021. Dustin Johnson indicated even before COVID-19 became a pandemic that the Olympics would make it difficult for him to be ready for the FedEx Cup.
For the women, it could be a bonus for Inbee Park, the defending gold medallist. Currently, Park would be the first reserve among the South Korean powerhouse team. She added to her schedule at the start of the year to improve her ranking and now gets more time. Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland, who turned pro late last year after a decorated career at Stanford, currently holds the final spot in the women’s field. She qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 as an amateur.
“This was one of the reasons I decided to turn professional. I knew that it would be hard to qualify, but that if I played in enough tournaments, and made some cuts, I would have a fair chance,” Valenzuela told GolfChannel.com .
The rest of the outcome is based on form, always fickle in golf.
LPGA ROOKIE WAITS
Three tournaments into her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, Patty Tavatanakit was disappointed by cancellations brought on by the spread of the new coronavirus. She had been given exemptions on the Asia swing to play before a home crowd at the Honda LPGA Thailand, and in the HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore. They were among three LPGA Tour events called off because of COVID-19.
That turned out to be only the start of a wait without knowing when she could play again.
The LPGA Tour’s last event ended February 16 in Australia (February 14 for Tavatanakit, who missed the cut). The next tournament on the schedule, for now, is May 14 in Florida. “It’s not ideal not playing,” Tavatanakit said Tuesday from Florida.
“I don’t know how many events we’re going to play this year. But whatever it is, we all have to take it from there. If there’s 10 tournaments, then there’s 10 tournaments.” She at least has full status from having finished No. 2 on the Symetra Tour money list last year, meaning she should get in just about every event but the majors. The 21-year-old UCLA alumna is using last summer to calm any concerns about how much she has to do in a shorter time.
Tavatanakit won consecutive tournaments and had an outside shot at the money title in just 11 events.
“If I have the opportunity in hand, I have a good chance of keeping my card this year,” she said. “I’m just worried about when we’re getting out of this break.”
Her best move was leaving California for Florida, where she has been practising with her boyfriend at Isleworth. “I can’t imagine how hard it is to be in LA right now,” she said.
Even so, the words of Rory McIlroy when he left The Players Championship rang true. McIlroy wondered that day what it would be like to practise without knowing when he was going to play again. “I actually was thinking about. I was putting for 20 minutes and it was like, ‘What am I practising for?’” she said.
“You just have to be solid about your goals and have a picture of what kind of golfer you want to be, pushing forward and working hard. And I have a clear image of that. I’m a rookie. I’m trying to get up there. I have a lot to work on.”
Tavakanakit at least has high status for a rookie. Jiwon Jeon, who played at Alabama, is lower down the list, having earned a card through the Q-Series. She has played one tournament, the Vic Open, where she opened with a pair of 69s and shot 86 to miss the 54-hole cut.
Jeon was in Los Angeles working with swing coach Ted Oh and preparing for the Founders Cup in Arizona when the LPGA Tour shut down. “It is very frustrating that I was only able to play one tournament so far, but I respect the decisions of the LPGA postponing the few events for our health and safety,” Jeon said in an email.
She has since returned home to South Korea and is practising, preferably outdoors. “Due to new government regulations for COVID-19 pertaining to using indoor facilities (having to get temperature checked to enter and using the gym, etc.), I am trying to avoid indoor facilities and try to spend time outdoors playing golf,” she wrote. “If I have to be indoor, I wear masks.”