Golf is truly a worldwide sport, one played by pros and amateurs around the globe with origins rooted in the United Kingdom. Its popularity is what makes the fact that it went excluded from Olympic competition from 1908-2012. It was played in the Summer Olympics in 1900 and 1904, but in the next 24 times the games were held, golf wasn’t part of the fun.
That changed in 2009 when it was added back to the mix by the IOC for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. And what a great decision that was.
This year will be just the fourth time golfers will take part as they head to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics – played a year later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The men’s field is an excellent one, with six of the top 11 players in the official world golf rankings teeing it up. The United States will be sending four of its best player, represented by Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau – young stars who have a great shot to win any tournament they attend.
They’ll face stiff competition from the likes of 2021 U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm (Spain), four-time major champ Rory McIlroy (Ireland), the current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) and many others – including Viktor Hovland (Norway), Paul Casey (Great Britain), Tommy Fleetwood (Great Britain), Shane Lowry (Ireland) and Abraham Ancer (Mexico).
As stacked as the field is this year, Team USA has as great a chance to win gold as any country. .
Thomas, 28, has 14 wins on the PGA Tour, including a PGA Championship, two World Golf Championship victories and a Players Championship to his name. He’s led the tour in earnings three of the last four seasons, absolutely lighting it up since 2016 with 13 of his 14 career wins coming in that span.
This will be his first trip to the Olympics and for a player who’s shined on the biggest stages, Thomas will try his hand at winning a gold medal. Though there was some understandable hesitancy from golfers heading to the Olympics due to health concerns, Thomas wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.
“There’s no scenario for me (to skip the Olympics if qualified),” Thomas said last year. “It’s just different. It’s once in every four years, and you have the opportunity to do it.”
That was before he qualified for Tokyo. Now that he’s officially in the field, he couldn’t be more excited about the chance to represent his country.
"I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics,” Thomas said in June. ". . . I think that would be one of the coolest honors that I’ve ever had. It’s something you don’t obviously get to do too often and it’s probably one of the only tournaments that I would brag about playing in or qualifying for, the fact that I would be able to play for Team USA in the Olympics."
Thomas should be among the favorites to take home gold, though his recent form hasn’t been the greatest. Since winning the Players Championship in March, he doesn’t have a top-10 finish. He’ll gladly turn things around in Tokyo with a top-three performance to send him back to the states with a medal.
With plenty of distance off the tee, excellent ball-striking and a winning pedigree, Thomas is one to watch in Tokyo.
Morikawa is the youngest player on Team USA at 24, and also the least experienced of the four players when it comes to competing on the PGA Tour. He just turned pro in 2019 after a successful career at Cal, but he’s already won four times and has two major titlse under his belt as the 2020 PGA Championship winner and capturing the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s over the weekend.
Despite his youth, Morikawa has shown time and time again that bright lights and marquee tournaments aren’t too big. In his first US Open, he finished T-35 in 2019. The following year, he won the PGA Championship. And this year, he tied for eighth in the PGA Championship and tied for fourth at the US Open at Torrey Pines.
Whether the course is long, tight, links-style or carved through a plethora of trees, Morikawa can compete and win in any situation no matter the layout. Just look at his performance in the 149th Open Championship this year, his first-ever appearance and only second time playing links golf.
He won the Open Championship in strong fashion, finishing 15-under. That after he won the PGA Championship in his first appearance last year, so “firsts” are never too much for the young ball striker. And speaking of that, he leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach – by a mile. The gap between him and second-place Paul Casey is larger than Casey to the 55th-ranked player.
Collin Morikawa leads the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained approach per round.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) July 16, 2021
The difference between Morikawa's per round average and no. 2 on the list this season (Paul Casey) is bigger than the difference between no. 2 and no. 55.
Like Thomas, he wasn’t going to miss the chance to play for Team USA.
“To have that opportunity to represent your country, there's really nothing like it,” Morikawa said, via Golf Digest. “I've had that honor to do it a couple times as an amateur and it's the best feeling in the world because you're not just playing four yourself but you're playing for your country, you're playing for everyone around you.”
Schauffele may be the only one without a major, but he’s contended in them more than just about anyone. Since 2017, it’s hard to believe just how many times he’s come close to winning each major. In five US Open starts, he’s gone T-5, T-6, T-3, 5th and T-7.
In the Open Championship, he finished T-2 in 2018 and T-20 the year before. This year saw T-26.
At Augusta, he tied for second in 2019 and tied for third this year, sandwiching a T-17 finish in 2020.
And finally in the PGA Championship, he tied for 10th in 2020 and had a T-16 the year prior.
So for anyone wondering if Schauffele is ready to play on the world’s biggest stage in sports, the answer is yes. There’s no moment too big, nor not competition too tough for the San Diego State product.
He has five professional wins, so he knows what it takes to beat the best golfers in the world, even capturing the Tour Championship in 2017 by one shot over Thomas. He’s as consistent as anyone in the world, excelling as a ball striker both off the tee and on approaches to the green – the mark of a top-notch player. And ranking 11th in strokes gained: putting is quite the notable stat, too.
This season alone, he’s finished in the top 25 a whopping 14 times, including seven top-10s. He will surely be in contention for a medal in Tokyo as a steady scorer.
DeChambeau is perhaps the most interesting player in the entire field. The longest hitter on tour, DeChambeau averages 321.9 yards off the tee and ranks first in strokes gained: off-the-tee. As big an advantage as that is, he does give up plenty in the accuracy department; he’s only 189th on tour in driving accuracy (54.44%).
What makes DeChambeau so unique is that he wasn’t close to this type of player two years ago. He completely transformed his body and playing style during the pandemic by working out constantly, bulking up to the tune of adding 20 pounds thanks to his new regimen.
He still hit it fairly long in 2019 before hitting the weight room, but he only ranked 34th on tour in driving distance (302.5). The result of that added distance and revamped golf game has been three wins since 2020, with the U.S. Open being his major breakthrough a year ago.
He’s hit some rough patches this year since March, only finishing in the top 10 once in his last 10 starts. Not exactly the type of form he was trying to carry into Tokyo, but if he can get his driver straightened out, the rest of the Olympic field will be in trouble.
DeChambeau was disappointed not to make the team in 2016 for the Rio Olympics, but he’s grateful to have the title of “Olympian” attached to his name.
“When I missed it in Rio in 2016, I was like ’Man, that’s a goal of mine that I want to check off the list.′ I want to be an Olympian for the American team,” he said, via the Associated Press. “And I’m very fortunate to say that I’m an Olympian now.”
His unique single-plane swing and overpowering style of play make him as unique as anyone the game of golf has ever seen. And with a US Open victory already to his name, DeChambeau would love to add a gold medal to his resume.