Tokyo 2020: Temperature rising for golf tournament organisers

Sweltering 36-degree heat takes heavy toll and leaves officials on horns of a dilemma

At a roasting Kasumigaseki Country Club, Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan, Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow goes for shade on the 10th. Photograph: James Crombie

At a roasting Kasumigaseki Country Club, Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan, Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow goes for shade on the 10th. Photograph: James Crombie

 

In the hollows and the still air corners of the Kasumagaseki Country Club, it felt much hotter than 36 degrees. In the trees the insects were shrilling like a thousand starlings, their volume rising and falling but never at rest and in a strange, real way raising the temperature.

They were the backing track to sweltering heat as the oven air of a Tokyo summer baked its residents and out in the suburbs the best field of women golfers assembled this year.

Around the course a number of the caddies had surrendered to the heat with sun stroke and were taken to hospital. The organisers took note. Those just watching play became sweat-soaked in minutes under a bright blue sky and high humidity, the only spectators visible those ducking in behind trees and under canopies for minimal relief.

Out on the fairways the players and their bag-carrying caddies walked the five hours in heat that was fracturing and distorting the air and they could only make it to the shade when they were held up by the group in front.

Then they peeled away to the shadows and under trees leaving a ghost tee box of bags and clubs with no human presence except the dark silhouettes barely visible in the cover.

“It’s been great. It’s very hot. I am looking forward to sitting down and getting some rest,” said Irish golfer Stephanie Meadow. Leona Maguire was on the same page.

“I mean this is hot,” said Maguire, who opened with a level-par 71 to sit five shots behind first-round leader, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom. “It’s hot for everybody. Teeing off at 7.50 this morning it was hot.”

Hotter than Florida, Meadow, who is based in the USA, was asked?

“Oh yes, this is boiling, yeah.”

The organisers later released a statement.

“Please be advised that based on our medical advisor’s input, playing more than 18 holes in one day is not advisable.”

That arrived after the organisers had sounded out the players about the prospect of playing 27 holes and finishing the tournament in three days instead of four as they expect heavy rain to arrive at the weekend. Many of the players thought as Meadow did.

“I think I made my opinion pretty clear on that inside,” said Meadow after signing for a one-over 72. “That’s a lot. I mean we’ve had people not making it today [caddies hospitalised with sun stroke] and if it’s going to be the same temp that would be hard. But you know we are here. We have to do it if they say it.”

Ireland’s Leona Maguire on the 12th hole with her caddy Diarmuid Byrne. Photograph: James Crombie
Ireland’s Leona Maguire on the 12th hole with her caddy Diarmuid Byrne. Photograph: James Crombie

The organisers obviously listened and after Thursday’s second round is completed they will decide whether to cut the tournament to a 54-hole Olympic event.

“Also due to a poor weather forecast beginning on Saturday through Sunday, the women’s Olympic Golf Competition may be reduced to a 54-hole competition . . . ” said their statement.

“In addition to tomorrow’s play we will implement additional heat mitigation measures including: Umbrellas available on the first tee to all players/caddies, roving carts with ice and cooling towels and volunteers with umbrellas on each tee.”

In tennis the heat rule at Wimbledon, introduced in 2019, allows for a 10-minute break to be taken between the second and third set for women’s matches, or between the third and fourth set in men’s matches, when the heat stress index is at or above 30.1 degrees. In Tokyo it is six degrees hotter with extreme humidity.

To compound matters both Maguire and Meadow aired their feelings on how the course had been set up. They believe it’s unnecessarily harder than the men’s set-up, forcing them to reach into their bag for approach shots that are three or four irons longer than what the men had been using.

“Uh huh, I agree, yeah,” said Meadow. “I mean they [men] were hitting 9-iron in on 18 and I had 5-iron today to front pin. Environmentally it rained a lot for them, so the greens were softer and they have started to firm up a lot now, so that makes it a little bit harder too.

“I would have liked to have been hitting the same clubs in. I think it’s fairer and it gives us a good test against them because people can see that if they can shoot 15 under we can shoot 15 under too, so I think it’s the right way to do it.

“I mean the dispersion [with longer clubs] is a lot greater, less control and it’s going to roll out more on the greens. It’s just way harder. I mean your average proximity with a 5-iron is probably double what it is with an 8-iron.

“But I understand it can be difficult to try to set it up based on conditions and wind . . . the guys hit it so far they can only put them back as far as they can go, whereas it’s a little different for us. It is what it is. I’d say it’s slightly longer than normally on our PGA Major length and this is kind of a Major.”

The organisers are in a bind. With super heat now and dirty weather predicted, they have been left with the choice of roasting the athletes and their caddies over 27 holes, or truncating the competition.

Tokyo in July and August, what else could they expect?

Tokyo 2020

Full coverage of the Olympic Games in Japan READ MORE
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