12 Jul 2021

Time for Tokyo: Olympic Games preview

For the first time in history, the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were postponed as the world got to grips with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Twelve months later, the country is set for a unique Olympics with vigorous testing, bubbles and a ban on fans in place to ensure the event runs as smoothly as possible.

Golf will be making just its fourth appearance in the Games since it was first held in 1896 with Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe playing host to both the Men’s and Women’s 72-hole strokeplay tournament. Despite a host of big names deciding to bypass the men’s tournament, including Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Tyrrell Hatton, excitement is growing in Japan as it gets set to welcome the likes of World No.1 Jon Rahm, four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy plus Masters Champion and Games poster boy Hideki Matsuyama.

Medal winners miss out

The Tokyo Olympic men’s golf tournament is set to produce three new medalists after Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar – Rio 2016 medalists – failed to qualify.

The Olympic men’s golf field of 60 was drawn from the World Ranking after the U.S. Open with the trio heading into that tournament outside of outright qualification before all three failed to make the cut at Torrey Pines to make up any ground. Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood will fly the flag for Great Britain while Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele will represent the USA. Stenson is currently Sweden’s first alternate if Alex Noren or Henrik Norlander withdraws from the Games.

The Course

Founded in 1929 and originally designed by Charles Hugh Alison, Kasumigaseki Country Club is one of the oldest and most respected clubs in Japan and has played host to a number of big tournaments including the Japan Open, Asian Amateur and the 1957 World Cup of Golf, where the home nation won amongst a field that included Sam Snead and Gary Player.

In 2014, one year on from the announcement of Japan’s successful bid to host the Games, representatives from the USGA, R&A, International Golf Federation, Kasumigaseki CC and the Japan Golf Association decided that the club’s East course would host the event and world-renowned course architect Tom Fazio would oversee a renovation.

Fazio, who was entrusted with the makeover of Augusta National in the early noughties, dramatically lengthened the layout to 7,466 yards by converting the two-green layout into a more traditional single-green course. Many older courses in Japan feature two greens for each hole to combat the area’s extreme weather. By transitioning to just one green per hole, Fazio was able to add more than 400 yards to the course.

Players to watch – Men

Hideki Matsuyama

Arguably the headline star of the Games, Japan’s first men’s Major winner will be playing his first event on home soil since he created history at Augusta National in April. The 29 year old became an even bigger star in Japan than he already was after that victory and he will have the full support of the home crowd at Kasumigaseki Country Club as he looks to compliment his Green Jacket with a Gold Medal.

“I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s an honour to be on team, I’ll do my best to represent my country and hopefully I’ll play well,” said the Japanese star.

Garrick Higgo

Our cover star from last month has risen into the top 50 of the World Ranking after banking two European Tour wins in the space of three weeks at the Canary Islands Swing before picking up a first PGA Tour title in just his second start at the Palmetto Championship. The 22 year old will be joined by compatriot Christiaan Bezuidenhout in Japan after Louis Oosthuizen withdrew to honour family commitments and focus on strong finish to the PGA Tour season.

Viktor Hovland

The youngster, who only turned pro in 2019, has quickly risen through the ranks and made history last month by becoming the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour with victory at the BMW International Open to add to his two PGA Tour titles. “We have a very rich Olympic tradition in Norway, and now with golf being an Olympic sport, I think it would be great for people back home to just get into the sport,” said Hovland.

Rory McIlroy

The Northern Irishman skipped the 2016 edition, citing concerns over the Zika virus that broke out in Brazil, but will not let COVID-19 get in his way this year as he aims add another title to his glistening CV. Won his first event since teaming up with Pete Cowen at the Wells Fargo Championship in May while a shot at victory at the U.S. Open faded as he come down the stretch on the Sunday.

Players to watch – Women

Maha Haddioui

Haddioui is well-known on the Ladies European Tour as the first and only Arab golfer to gain playing privileges after turning professional back in 2012. The 33 year old, who also competed at the Rio Games in 2016, crept into the field after securing the 60th and final spot for the showdown at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Patty Tavatanakit

The golfing world was introduced to a new superstar in the women’s game earlier this year when Tavatanakit, or Patty T to friends and commentators, bombed her way around Mission Hills Country Club in stunning fashion to become the first rookie in history to make the ANA Inspiration their maiden win on the LPGA Tour. The Thai star averaged 323 yards off the tee over four rounds there, while her third round average was a mammoth 348 yards.

Lydia Ko

One of the biggest stars of the women’s game, Ko will be hoping to build on her runner-up finish at Rio 2016 and get her hands on a Gold Medal for New Zealand. The Kiwi recently picked up her first win in three years with a seven-stroke romp at the Lotte Championship and also finished as runner-up at the ANA Inspiration after carding the lowest final round in Major Championship history — 10-under 62.

Shanshan Feng

The Bronze medalist at Rio 2016 could be playing in her final tournament after hinting she would retire after the Games. The 31 year old, who became the first Chinese player to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, started the season strongly with top five finishes in the first two Major Championships of the year and will be hoping to bring that form to Japan to bow out on a high.

Nelly Korda

The American youngster is the woman to beat right now after surging to World No.1 following a string of fine results including a maiden Major win at the Women’s PGA Championship. That triumph was her third of the year after sealing the Meijer LPGA Classic the week before and the Gainbridge LPGA in February, where she shot a career-best 62 in the third round.

The men’s competition will take place from July 29-Aug 1 while the women compete on Aug 4-7 at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, Japan. Viewers in the UAE can catch all the action from the Olympic Games on BEIN Sports.

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