Date: June 17, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

Race for Olympic golf spots heats up

The race for spots in golf’s much-heralded return to the Olympic Games in 2016 is on in earnest, with Jason Day, Adam Scott, Karrie Webb and Minjee Lee at the head of Australia’s list of contenders.

Only 60 players of each gender will compete for the medals at Rio de Janeiro next year under the guidelines approved by the International Olympic Committee.

Players qualify through the world golf rankings on 11 July, 2016, with the top 15 on both the men’s and women’s rankings automatically invited (but with a maximum of four athletes per country).

The remaining spots will be awarded to the highest-ranked players from countries which do not already have two golfers qualified, working downwards in the rankings.

The criteria are complicated. While countries like the United States and South Korea (in the women’s event) may get up to four players into the field, most countries will have a maximum of two. Right now, the US has four of the top seven of the world rankings for men, meaning that a player like Rickie Fowler, ranked No. 9 in the world, would miss out.

For Australia, under the guidelines Day (currently ranked 10) and Scott (12) would automatically qualify as top-15 players on the men’s side, and no other Australians would get in, unless an invited player declined. Scott has said he did not feel golf needed to be included in the Olympic Games, but he has also made it clear he would not rule out playing in Rio. Right now, the next Australian on the men’s rankings is Marc Leishman at 53.

In the women’s event, Webb (ranked 15th) would be an automatic choice but Minjee Lee (17th) would also most likely find a spot in the field because she is just outside the top 15. Australia’s next-highest ranked player is Nikki Campbell at 105th, and Campbell would need to rise up the rankings soon to have a chance of qualifying.

Webb, an avid follower of the Olympics, has made clear her desire to represent her country. In fact, the 40-year-old hall-of-famer has said that the lure of the Games has kept her playing on the LPGA Tour a little longer.

“I try not to get too caught up in it at the moment because it’s still 15 months away, and I’ve got to concentrate on now and play well now to continue keeping my world ranking where it is,” she said recently.  “If I didn’t have that long-term goal, I don’t know if I’d be playing full-time right now. So that’s keeping me out here.”

Lee, the 19-year-old who has already won on the LPGA Tour in her first season, also has said she is keen to win selection for Rio.

Golf was last played at the Olympics in 1904.