A year out, Ireland’s Olympic golfers all but confirmed

Out of Bounds: Perhaps system should not run for as long to create closer competition

Shane Lowry is all but assured of representing Ireland at next year’s Olympics alongside Rory McIlroy. Photo: Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Shane Lowry is all but assured of representing Ireland at next year’s Olympics alongside Rory McIlroy. Photo: Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

 

A simple question. Is golf’s qualifying system for the Olympic Games spread over too long a length of time?

The only reason why I pose such a question is because, almost a full year out from the 2020 Tokyo Games, we can envisage that the four Irish players – two men, two women – competing in the Olympics will be Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire.

Certainly in the case of the two women, their places are set not in stone but in marble. As for the two men, well it would take some drastic drop in form aligned to a remarkable move from others to change the picture.

The qualifying system in golf for the 2020 Olympics actually got underway in July 2018 and, based on points earned through the official world rankings at counting tournaments, will conclude in June 2020. The two-year process is designed to ensure fairness in deciding the 60 men and the 60 women to compete in separate 72-hole strokeplay tournaments.

As of now, McIlroy is ranked second on the men’s ranking with Lowry strongly positioned in 12th. The next ranked Irish player is Graeme McDowell, in 117th, followed by Cormac Sharvin in 230th. On the women’s side, Meadow is ranked 41st and Maguire is ranked 44th. With no other Irish woman in the rankings, Meadow and Maguire – both with full cards on the LPGA Tour next season – are set to replicate their representation of 2016 and become two-time Olympians.

McIlroy and Lowry are set to become first-time Olympians. Although both would have qualified for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the two players were among those who withdrew from golf’s return to the Olympics citing fears about the zika virus – transmitted by mosquitoes – which gathered a life of its own in being debated in locker rooms from one tournament to another that season.

There are no such fears for the 2020 Games and, given the early qualifying system and the form shown by McIlroy and Lowry in the past year, there will be little or no looking over their shoulders from McIlroy or Lowry in the remaining eight months. And, certainly in Lowry’s case, the focus is likely to be very much on totting up as many Ryder Cup points as possible (while adding to his Olympic collection given that points off the world rankings are also used) will be his main goal in his quest to be part of Pádraig Harrington’s Team Europe in defence of the trophy at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

As of now, it looks that McIlroy, Lowry, Meadow and Maguire can already include the Olympics in Tokyo on their itineraries for 2020 well ahead of schedule, and you imagine, not quite how those who came up with the qualifying system would have envisaged.

If the Irish chosen ones are effectively a done deal, the same cannot be said in the case of the United States who, you can bet your bottom dollar, will have a team of four men. As of now, the four players set to play are Brooks Koepka (1), Dustin Johnson (3), Patrick Cantlay (6) and Justin Thomas (7) but the really intriguing shuffling is going on behind, with Bryson DeChambeau ranked eighth and, most notably, Tiger Woods in ninth position. Add in Xander Schaufflee and Tony Finau in pursuit of a qualifying spot, and the USA scenario is far and away the most open.

With a limit of a maximum of four players from any one country eligible, Woods – providing he gets fit and well and again – would need to move upwards to claim one of the USA’s qualifying spots.

Woods hasn’t played competitively since the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs (failing to reach the Tour Championship finale) but is due to resume play in a multi-million skins match (also involving McIlroy along with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama) in Japan next week before teeing up in the Zozo Championship which is an inaugural tournament on the PGA Tour and the first to be played in Japan.

Woods has recently announced that he has been working on a memoir – to be called “Back”, which we trust has more to do with his miraculous comeback in winning the Masters this year rather than his back-problems through the years – but there is no doubt that earning a place on the USA team at the Olympics will be a personal target heading into 2020.

While the make-up of the Irish men’s participants is all but done, at least the battle for positions on the USA team – with Woods very much in the mix – will make for some intrigue as the qualifying system unfolds.

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