After a coronavirus enforced hiatus the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have finally kicked off amidst a backdrop of artificial crowd noise to drown out the eery silence that surrounds the athletes as they all compete in their respective sports.
For the golfers there will be a significant limit on fan attendance as the IOC battles to beat the virus and get the Olympics completed relatively unscathed.
Golf is still climbing the ladder in terms of its significance as winning an Olympic medal is way down the pecking order when a golfer sets out on their professional career, below the Major championships, the Players, WGC’s and other flagship tour events.
The 2016 edition was a roaring success as the cream came to the top in a depleted field while there was a tight contest which went down to the final hole as Justin Rose held off Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and USA’s Matt Kuchar to win gold, an accolade he is incredibly proud of. Despite the inevitable mocking that comes Rose’s way, his delight and pride in being an Olympic champion is the advertisement the sport needs if it is to become a stalwart at the games for years to come.
Strangely, none of the medal winners from 2016 are in the field this week.
This year the tournament will be held at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kasahata, Saitama, Japan. The field will consist of 60 players representing their home countries.
In truth, like in Rio the men’s field is lacking in depth with the best players from Great Britain, South Africa and the US opting not to play. Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau testing positive for Covid-19 has severely diminished the quality of field, particularly Spain who will now be represented by two unrecognisable golfers to the casual fan.
Perhaps a virus free Olympics would have enticed more of the world’s best to make the venture out, but it is hard to know given the players disinterest may be echoed by the fans too.
Shane Lowry looked like a kid on Christmas Eve as he boarded the plane for Tokyo at the weekend and he is in great form heading into the week after a gallant defence of his Open championship title. A 12th place finish was enough to push the Clara native into the automatic Ryder Cup qualifying places, leapfrogging Frenchman Victor Perez.
Winning an Olympic medal would mean the world for Lowry who wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to being patriotic, having won the Irish Open in 2009 as an amateur and was treated to a rousing homecoming when he won the Claret Jug in 2019.
Lowry will make his Olympic debut alongside fellow debutant, Rory McIlroy who has put any political ramifications to one side and will represent Ireland this week.
McIlroy’s form has been erratic at best since beginning his journey with new coach Pete Cowen, only registering one top-10 since his win at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Rory McIlroy by Golffile
Part of McIlroy’s Major championship drought has been caused by the depth of field he is now up against who have closed the gap on him and for some, have overtaken him.
The large number of withdrawals from the 2020 games has reduced the field to the standard of a regular PGA Tour event and the four-time major champion is rightly one of the favourites.
The other standout teams come from USA where Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Mr Captain America himself Patrick Reed will headline the event.
Hideki Matsuyama will bid for gold on home turf as he tries to claim a historic home win for Japan to back up his Masters win in April.
Zurich Classic winners Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith will be all out to bring gold down under while Tommy Fleetwood hasn’t hidden his enthusiasm for the games as he gets underway alongside Paul Casey.
South Africa also have an intriguing duo of Christiaan Bezuidenhout and youngster Garrick Higgo who has three worldwide wins this year.
Ireland is renowned for punching above its weight in the sporting world, but golf represents a serious medal chance if our two men can find their form before Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow represent Ireland next Wednesday.