Unlike golf’s return to the 2016 Olympics after a century-long absence, the sport won’t be a mystery to the host nation this time around. No one has had to build a new golf course in Japan that is suitable for elite players.
The heroes will not be difficult to identify.
All the stars – most of them anyway – will be at the Kasumigaseki Country Club for the Tokyo Olympics, and one in particular stands out.
Hideki Matsuyama is among the favorites to win a gold medal, all because of his green jacket.
Matsuyama became the first Japanese player to win the Masters, a source of pride for a country with the greatest golfing heritage of any Asian nation. The timing could not have been better given the COVID-19 pandemic which threatened to cancel the Olympics and has now led to severe restrictions and minimal numbers of local spectators a year later.
He has already deflected some of the pressure as a Masters champion, claiming that the Big Four Champions remain the biggest prize in golf.
âNot that we’re not trying to win the Olympics, but it’s the events that are very important,â Matsuyama said. “However, that said, there are other sports for which the Olympics are the pinnacle, the pinnacle of their sports. And so I hope the Olympics can be played in a great way that will make my fellow Japanese people proud. . “
Matsuyama was among 22 men who skipped the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when golf returned to the program for the first time since 1904. Most of them raised fears about the Zika virus, as well as problems of security.
Rio was an audition for golf to stay at the Olympics, and even with the world’s four best men staying on the sidelines, the sport exceeded expectations with the sold-out final round.
Now maybe more players are capturing that Olympic spirit. Dustin Johnson, world number 2, was the only top 10 player who chose not to travel to Japan. Fourteen other qualifiers decided to pass, although Tokyo has all the big names.
âThis is the only tournament I can brag about being able to play,â said Justin Thomas. âI have never received so many congratulations for being an Olympic athlete. The first time you make the PGA Championship, the British Open, people don’t congratulate you. You get this when you are an Olympian.
This has never been a problem for women, who rarely get such a visible scene.
Rio’s three medalists, starting with seven-time major champion and gold medalist Inbee Park, are back. The US team includes 22-year-old Nelly Korda, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, and her older sister Jessica.
Kasumigaseki Country Club is considered the most famous course in Japan. It opened in 1929 and has 36 holes for members. It hosted the forerunner of the 1957 World Cup, which Japan won against the US team of Jimmy Demaret and Sam Snead. It has also hosted the Japan Open four times, most recently in 2006, and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur won by 18-year-old Hideki Matsuyama.
South Korea is the power again with the maximum of four players, all in the top six in the world rankings. Americans plan to gain attention thanks to Sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda. They are the daughters of 1998 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda. Nelly is 22 years old and has just completed her first major tournament at the PGA Women’s Championship, which saw her reach the top spot in the world. Jessica is 28 and has won the LPGA Tour six times.
Japanese heritage goes beyond those who play for the flag of the rising sun. US Open Women’s Champion Yuka Saso of the Philippines has a Japanese father and she lives in Japan with her four siblings. She will decide after the Olympics whether she will play for Japan in the future Olympics. Former PGA Champion Collin Morikawa was born in California to Japanese ancestors. And then there is Xander Sc Chaudele, who has family in Japan. Her mother was born in Taiwan and raised in Japan.
THE VALUE OF A MEDAL
Hideki Matsuyama will feel the attention as a Masters champion playing at home at the Olympics. The real push belongs to Sungjae Im and Siwoo Kim from South Korea. The only way for them to avoid compulsory military service is to earn an Olympic medal. Im, who played for the international team in the last Presidents Cup, is 23 and will likely have another shot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
WE ARE INTERRUPTING THESE TOUR TIMES
Most of Kasumigaseki’s women will play a major championship in France two weeks before the Olympics, and another major championship in Scotland two weeks after. And then for Americans and Europeans, the Solheim Cup is two weeks later. The men have the British Open two weeks before the Olympics and a world golf championship a week after.
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