Golfers have been dropping out of the Olympics seemingly every day. Who’s next? And who can actually win this thing?
To say that the Rio Olympics are in turmoil is an understatement. At this point, any good news out of Brazil’s flagship city would be surprising. A corruption scandal involving Petrobas, Brazil’s largest oil company, and hundreds of high-ranking politicians, including President Dilma Roussef, has rocked the South American nation. Citizens protest in the streets of Rio de Janeiro for Roussef’s impeachment daily, while Brazil’s economy has plummeted.
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The most damaging news from the host city has been the outbreak of Zika. A mosquito-borne virus, Zika cases in newborns have numbered in the thousands. The fears of many athletes were realized last week when Jamaican runner Kemar Baliey-Cole was diagnosed with the virus.
On the heels of such negative press, in a sport where the Olympic Games may not even be a priority for most, where does golf stand in the midst of this Brazilian crisis? Here are two questions in dire need of an answer before the 72-hole tournament officially kicks off on August 11.
1. Will Jordan Spieth Play?
A major champion and bona fide golfing prodigy at just 22 years old, Jordan Spieth would qualify for the Rio through his No. 1 ranking alone. Yet Spieth has wavered on his interest to play in the Olympics. Last week, Spieth spoke to reporters about the factors he must weigh in his decision to play.
“Right now I’m uncertain,” said Spieth. “Always been excited about the possible opportunity, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going… I personally have not received enough information that would allow me to make a confident decision either way at this point, so it’ll be as we gather further information I’ll be able to lean one way or the other, and when I feel confident on either side, I’ll make the choice, (cbssports.com).
When asked to clarify these “factors”, Spieth cited “security” and “bacteria” as a few of his concerns.
Without Spieth, the U.S. would be at a huge deficit. The two-time major winner has the fourth lowest scoring average on tour at just over 69. In the 2016 season, Spieth has also averaged close to five birdies per round—that’s the highest average on tour. In a tournament that has already seen the likes of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and Adam Scott drop out, losing another star-studded golfer would drive the tournament’s prestige down the gutter.
2. Who Will Fare Best On The Links-Style Course?
The par-71 Olympic Golf Course at Reserva di Marapendi will play a long 6,552 m for the men. As a true links course, the Gil Hanse design plays with large, sweeping fairways and greens that make the course’s 970,000 square meters feel every bit as long. Not to mention the fact that coastal winds on Rio’s coastline could cause fluctuating scores.
One marquee name that stands above the rest, a man who is “one-hundred percent in,” (wkyc.com) as of yesterday, Bubba Watson has the shot-shaping ability to win gold at Rio. The power hitter is ninth in average driving distance this season. From tee to green, Watson is seventh on tour at getting the ball on the green in regulation.
The one facet of Watson’s drives that are not stellar is his driving accuracy. Hitting the fairway just 57% of the time is good enough for just 144th on tour, but with such wide fairways in Rio, expect that percentage to improve.
If the 2012 Masters was any indication, Watson is a master shot-shaper.
The ability to shape one’s shots is especially important on a links course because of the huge factor wind will undoubtedly play at the Olympics. Without any trees to block wind coming from the ocean, the ability to play a punch or a slight fade could mean the difference between a ball sailing 100 yards into the ocean and landing safely on the green.
The U.S. Will Win Gold
Golf is very much an individual sport. The format of this year’s Olympics does nothing to dispel that notion. The tournament will be 72-holes of stroke play. So, this is not a tournament set-up that promotes any team camaraderie of any kind. Just 60 men and 60 women playing four rounds of golf. So while there are teams, who cares?
Based solely on individual performance, the U.S. will win gold, if not silver or bronze as well. With Jason Day, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Charles Schwartzel, as well as many other marquee names dropping out of the tournament, the U.S. will have a loaded roster of potential candidates to choose from. When the new IGF rankings were released on June 27, four American golfers were ranked in the top five. Depending on whether Brazil still remains a viable option for a few of the American golfers, the U.S. could be sending a golfing foursome to Rio with over 20 PGA Tour wins between them, the most for any one team.
The fact that golf is returning to the Olympics after a 112-year hiatus is something that should be celebrated. Unfortunately, the turmoil surrounding this year’s Olympics will be hard for some stars of the game to look past (and for good reason). But if the American golfers commit to bringing home the gold, that’s exactly what they will do.
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