By Tyler Olson
Despite the less than ideal circumstances that have possibly kneecapped Olympic golf before it even had a chance to get off the ground, golf is still an Olympic sport and there still is a tournament to be played. So, let’s take a look at what we’re gonna see August 11th-14th on the links at Rio.
Designed by Gil Hanse, the 7,128 yard par-71 layout might just be the star of the show in a tournament where some of the biggest stars in the world of golf aren’t in attendance. Because it was built partially on a nature reserve, there’s plenty of wildlife for the golfers to contend with along with the other players in the field. There are monkeys and sloths and boa constrictors… oh my (terrible joke I know but I couldn’t resist). The course also plays home to a small army of capybaras (the world’s largest rodent that can grow up to 150 pounds) and a whole mess of caimans (small crocodiles that grow to be about 5 feet long). While some animals may get in the way of play, the golfers shouldn’t be in any danger as the Olympic committee hired five biologists to keep the any dangerous animals, specifically the caimans, away from tasty human-flavored snacks.
Another side effect of the course being built in a protected area is that all 79 bunkers will be built from native sand, as Hanse was unable to import or remove any sand from the area. It should be interesting to watch how the bunkers hold up as the tournament goes on; whether they may be filled with rocks or possibly play hard compared to the perfect, fluffy sand most players are used to on tour.
The actual layout of the course looks like it will be conducive to some exhilarating play. There are no trees or rough, so it very closely resembles a links course or something from the Australian sandbelt, giving a particular advantage to players from the British Isles and Australia. Because there is no rough at all, wayward drives should hold their speed as they careen towards the hazard areas of the course- natural sandy expanses with long, native grasses- and make for some either spectacular or impossible recovery shots.
The final three holes are designed for eventful finishes and thrilling comebacks. The sixteenth is a drivable 303 yard par four, the seventeenth a 133 yard flip wedge of a par three, and the eighteenth a lengthy but possibly reachable 571 yard par five. While not exactly easy, there is a four-under finish out there for the taking if someone is a few strokes back in the final stretch.
The Odds-On Favorite
With no Dustin Johnson or Jason Day or Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy or… well you get the point, Henrik Stenson is the highest ranked golfer playing in Rio. Not only that, but he’s fresh off a summer with an onslaught of top tens and two wins, including his first career major. Speaking of his major, which one did he win? Oh yeah, the British Open. What kind of course is the British Open played on? Links, just like the one in Rio. Possibly his biggest advantage, though: Swedes are a very patriotic people (literally in that country you cannot walk five feet without seeing their flag) so Stenson should be almost as motivated as our boy Patrick Reed. I’m not saying that Henrik Stenson is a bigger lock to win gold than the US Men’s basketball team, but I’m not not saying it either. Okay just kidding there is no conceivable circumstance where US basketball loses, or even wins by less than 25 points. But the point is that Henrik Stenson has by far the best chance of any golfer to be standing on the top of that podium come August 14th.
Players To Watch
Rickie Fowler: Despite not exactly playing his best golf as of late, Fowler still holds one of the four spots on the American team. Some may look at his singular top ten in the past seven starts as a slump, I prefer to look at it as him being due. The Olympic environment may be one especially suited to Fowler too, being that since the beginning of his career, his flashy clothes, classy demeanor, and rapport with fans have made him a top figure in growing the game. While the field may not be as deep or the purse, well, literally not anything, compared to the majors or the Tour, Rickie should be very comfortable playing the part as ambassador of the game, which is really the point of these Olympics in the first place.
Patrick Reed: When P Reed drapes himself in the stars and stripes, he seems to actually turn into one of the world’s top five players. Need we look further than his fiery performance at the previous Ryder Cup? This year, as other stars of the game dropped out of the Olympics like flies, Reed was steadfast in his desire to represent the US, “Any time I can wear stars and stripes, I do it. I get the call tomorrow, I’ll be on the flight. It doesn’t matter to me where it is, when it is. If I can play for my country, I’m going to play.” Patrick Reed wants to be at the Olympics and he’s there to win.
Danny Willett: As the only Olympian besides Stenson to win a major in 2016, Willett comes into the Olympics with a little added pressure. He’s been cold for most of the summer after his Masters victory and is trying to find the form that led him to a green jacket just a few short months ago. The weak Olympic field may be the perfect opportunity for the OWGR 9th ranked Willett to do just that.
Emiliano Grillo: Since coming on to the scene with wins at the Web.com Tour Championship and the Frys.com Open in late 2015, Grillo has produced a flurry of top 25’s this season and shown that he deserves to be considered one of golf’s rising young guns along with the likes of Justin Thomas and others. Grillo, an Argentinian, may also have somewhat of a home court advantage being from South America whereas most of the big names in golf will have to fly in from Europe or the United States.
Graham Delaet: Canadians always seem to rep the red and white well in international sports and Graham Delaet is looking to reinforce that stereotype in Rio. Despite being in the middle of a rough season and steadily slipping in the World rankings the past two years, Delaet recently pulled out a top-10 at the Barbasol Championship and could carry that momentum into a solid Olympic tournament and possibly a medal.
Felipe Aguilar: Aguilar, whose play has never been good enough to bring him into the consciousness of most Americans or even watchers of the Euro Tour, will be representing Chile on his home continent in these Olympics. Limits on the number of golfers per country will let this perpetual journeyman squeeze into the 60-man field and have the chance to compare his play to some of the best in the world. Aguilar may be rounding into form just in time for Rio, as two of his last three starts on the European Tour were top-25’s. Don’t be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard heading into the last couple rounds.
No matter how many obstacles there have been for Olympic golf or how disappointed many are with the way the tournament is being run, questionable golf is better than no golf. When the tournament starts up, it will be a welcome break from trying to be entertained by table tennis, rowing, and judo. Here’s to some good golf.