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Olympic golf at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who are the top golfers? When and where will Olympic golf take place at the Games in 2021? What is the history of golf at the Olympics? Find out here.
By Rory Jiwani

Golf is one of 33 sports at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, taking place in 2021.

Who are the athletes to watch? When will the competition take place and where will it be held?

Ever wanted to know about sport's Olympic history?

Look no further. Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic golf.

Top Olympic golfers at Tokyo 2020

Two nations dominate the world of golf in the lead-up to the Olympics in 2021 - the United States for men and the Republic of Korea for women.

With a maximum of four players per country teeing it up in Tokyo, the race for places is intense, to say the least.

More than half of the men's top 20 players are American, with only long-time world number one and 2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson assured of qualification.

Johnson had previously ruled himself out of Tokyo 2020 to focus on his PGA Tour commitments, but the postponement of the Games by a year to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic saw him reconsider.

'DJ' had far from ideal preparation for November's 2020 Masters, spending two weeks in self-isolation in a Las Vegas hotel after testing positive for COVID following his second place at the US Open.

Despite being unable to practise and feeling below-par, Johnson returned with a second place at the Houston Open before claiming his first Green Jacket at Augusta by five strokes.

While two majors is a slightly disappointing return for a player of his undoubted quality, the Florida-based star has no fear of any course and seems to be in contention wherever he plays.

Dustin Johnson on his way to victory at the 2020 Masters at Augusta.
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This year's PLAYERS Championship winner Justin Thomas is almost certain to join Johnson due to his high points average leaving just two more spots up for grabs.

Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, and reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau head the charge with Rio 2016 Olympian Patrick Reed just behind.

Brooks Koepka, with four major triumphs in the past four years, will need some strong performances if he is to make the plane for Tokyo.

The 30-year-old is ranked 11, but had knee surgery after a fall in March and missed the cut in the Masters on his first start back.

One man who definitely won't make it is Tiger Woods.

The 45-year-old produced a comeback story for the ages by ending his 11-year major drought with a memorable triumph at the Masters in 2019.

But a high-speed car crash in California in February saw him break bones in both legs, and it is not known when he'll return to competitive golf.

Defending Olympic champion Justin Rose showed he was no back number by leading after the first round of this year's Masters before finishing seventh behind Japan's first male major winner Matsuyama Hideki.

That said, the Englishman still has plenty of work to do to make the Great Britain team with Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood and the resurgent Lee Westwood all ahead of him in the world rankings.

Hatton is currently the only Briton in the top 15 but if Fitzpatrick, currently 16th, can move up then there would be four British players in Tokyo rather than three.

Matsuyama will lead the home challenge with Kanaya Takumi perhaps joining him in the field.

The top non-American in the rankings is Spain's Jon Rahm in third place.

One of the longest hitters in the game, the Basque golfer won two PGA Tour events in 2020 including victory over Johnson in a playoff at August's BMW Championship thanks to an outrageous monster birdie putt.

Rahm, who became a father in April, has been the model of consistency this season with six top-10 finishes in eight starts.

Koreans account for eight of the top 20 in the women's world rankings, including the top three - Ko Jin-young, reigning Olympic champion Inbee Park, and Kim Sei-young - who are all almost certain to qualify for Tokyo.

After spending most of 2020 at home in Korea, Ko showed why she is the world's top player with victory in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship after finishing tied for second behind Kim A-lim in Houston.

Ko, 25, had her breakout season in 2019 as she claimed her first LPGA Tour wins in North America and secured two major titles, the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship.

Ko Jin-young celebrates victory in the 2020 CME Group Tour Championship
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Kim Sei-young also looks to have booked her place in Tokyo after a stellar 2020 in which she shed her tag of 'best player without a major title' at the Women's PGA Championship in suburban Philadelphia.

Like a certain Tiger Woods, she insists on wearing red for the final round, although in her case it's the bottom half rather than the top.

She also likes to listen to KPOP stars BTS to get her going during tournaments, and was tied for third at the ANA Inspiration before sharing second place at the Lotte Championship.

Kim Sei-young putts during the final round of the 2020 CME Group Tour Championship
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Park started 2021 in superb style with a five-stroke victory in March's KIA Classic in San Diego.

The following week, she and Kim were tied for seventh in the first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, behind Thailand's surprise victor Patty Tavatanakit.

Already assured of Hall of Fame status, 32-year-old Park remains keen to add to her tally of seven majors and one Olympic gold achieved on golf's return at Rio 2016.

Inbee Park poses with her trophy for winning the 2021 KIA Classic
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

At just 21, Tavatanakit is almost certain to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo after her ANA Inspiration success saw her vault up the rankings from 103 to 13.

She should be joined by the Jutanugarn sisters, two-time major winner Ariya and Moriya.

Koreans won three of 2020's four majors - after the Evian Championship was cancelled - with Germany's Sophia Popov a shock winner of the Women's British Open.

Popov, who told LPGA.com that she had struggled with the tick-borne Lyme Disease for several years, will appear in Tokyo with Rio 2016 Olympian Caroline Masson also likely to represent Germany in the 60-strong field.

New Zealand's former world number one Lydia Ko had her first LPGA Tour win for three years at April's Lotte Championship in Hawaii.

Ko dropped outside the top 50 last August, but the 24-year-old looks back to her best having backed up her second place at the ANA Inspiration - her best major result for four years - with that Hawaii triumph.

Lydia Ko (R) receives a hug from Nelly Korda after winning the 2021 Lotte Championship
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Outside of Korea, the United States is the strongest nation in women's golf with Nelly Korda and Danielle Kang fourth and fifth in the world rankings, and Rio Olympian Lexi Thompson eighth.

Korda is a daughter of former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda.

Aged 22, she reached number two in the world thanks to consistently strong performances in 2020 before a back injury forced her to pull out during round one of October's Women's PGA Championship. Her elder sister Jessica is also knocking on the door of the world's top 20.

Their younger brother Sebastian has just broken into tennis's top 70 and has an outside shot of making Tokyo himself.

Olympic golf competition format at Tokyo 2020

The men's and women's golf tournaments at Tokyo 2020 are both 72-hole individual stroke play events taking place over four rounds on four consecutive days.

There are 60 players in each competition with no halfway elimination or cut.

For the last two rounds, the players go out in scoreboard order with the leaders teeing off in the final group.

If players in medal places are tied after 72 holes, a three-hole playoff will decide the medallists before potentially sudden death.

Olympic golf schedule at Tokyo 2020

The golf events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021 take place from 29th July to 7th August. The men's event is 29th July to 1st August, with the women's competition 4-7 August.

Men's competition:

  • 29 July - Men's Individual Stroke Play Round 1
  • 30 July - Men's Individual Stroke Play Round 2
  • 31 July - Men's Individual Stroke Play Round 3
  • 1 August - Men's Individual Stroke Play Round 4

Women's competition:

  • 4 August - Women's Individual Stroke Play Round 1
  • 5 August - Women's Individual Stroke Play Round 2
  • 6 August - Women's Individual Stroke Play Round 3
  • 7 August - Women's Individual Stroke Play Round 4

Olympic golf venue at Tokyo 2020

Golf at Tokyo 2020 will be held on the East Course of the Kasumigaseki Country Club, a private club in Saitama 50km north-west of Tokyo.

It was founded in 1929 and hosted the Golf World Cup (then called the Canada Cup) in 1957, the first time Japan had staged the event.

The East Course was redesigned and lengthened in 2016 to present a greater test to the best golfers in the world.

In March 2017, the club decided to accept women members having been told by the IOC that failure to do so would see the tournament moved to an alternative venue.

That November, US President Trump played golf at Kasumigaseki with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Olympic golf history

The Tokyo 2020 Games will be the fourth Olympic golf tournament.

The sport missed the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but it was included four years later in Paris.

The men's tournament was a 36-hole stroke play event with the women's played over just nine holes on the course inside the grounds of Compiègne racecourse.

Charles Sands of the United States won men's gold with rounds of 82 and 85.

Margaret Abbott, born in Calcutta, India, shot 47 to become the first American woman to win an Olympic title with her mother Mary also competing.

The 23-year-old Abbott, who was studying art in Paris under Degas and Rodin at the time, received a porcelain bowl rather than a gold medal and thought it was a regular tournament rather than the Olympic Games.

According to Team USA, it was not until long after her death in 1955 that her children were informed of her achievement.

There was no women's tournament at St Louis 1904 with golf consisting of a men's match play individual tournament - where players win, lose or halve holes rather than use total scores - and a men's team event where 10 players' 36-hole totals were tallied.

Canada's George Lyon, a former cricketer of high repute, beat American Chandler Egan 3&2 (three holes up with two to play) to take individual gold.

Egan went one better in the team event as his Western Golf Association took gold ahead of two more teams from the United States, the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association and the United States Golf Association.

That was the last of golf at the Olympic Games until its return at Rio 2016.

Justin Rose quickly made his mark with the first hole-in-one in Olympic history in his opening round on the Barra da Tijuca course.

Rose then beat Ryder Cup team-mate and 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson in a thrilling final round to take gold for Great Britain with USA's Matt Kuchar winning bronze.

The 2013 US Open champion, who is in contention for one of Britain's spots in Tokyo, said afterwards, "Oh my God, that felt better than anything I’ve ever won. It’s been the best tournament of my life."

"It felt like a cross between a golf tournament and a carnival. It was unique, incredible!" - Justin Rose on Rio 2016

The first women's Olympic golf tournament for 116 years was similarly enthralling.

After first-round leader Ariya Jutanugarn had to pull out through injury, Inbee Park took charge and shot a superb final round 66 to win by five strokes from New Zealand's then world number one Lydia Ko.

China's Feng Shanshan took the bronze.

Park had been suffering with an injured left thumb leading up to the tournament but came good at the right time to take gold.

The 32-year-old won just once in 2020, but a number of top-five finishes has seen her move back up to number three in the world rankings and right into contention to defend her Olympic title.