Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Leading stars from men’s and women’s game poised for more Olympic glory

by Helen Ross

A little more than a year from now, 120 of the world’s best golfers – 60 men and 60 women – will gather at Le Golf National to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The course, which is just southwest of Paris and 15 minutes from the majestic Palace of Versailles, is no stranger to international competition after hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup as well as the Open de France on the DP World Tour 28 times. Golf in the Olympics is in its relative infancy, though. The sport returned to the roster of events in 2016 after an absence of 112 years and the coveted gold, silver and bronze medals awarded in France will be just the fifth set for the men and the fourth for the women. Even so, what unfolds during that two-week span in August 2024, could be historic. No male or female golfer has ever medaled in three Olympics.

But barring a precipitous drop in the Olympic Golf Ranking over the next 12 months, Lydia Ko of New Zealand will head to Paris with just that opportunity. Ko won a silver medal in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, finishing fi ve strokes behind South Korea’s Inbee Park despite making her first ace during the third round. And in the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Ko lost a silver medal playoff to Japan’s Mone Inami after both players finished a shot behind Nelly Korda of the United States. Ko, who is a 19-time winner on the LPGA Tour, recently told Olympics.com that getting to play in Paris is one of her biggest goals over the next year. And while earning a third straight medal — of any kind — is a top priority, she’d like nothing better than to complete her set with a gold. “Paris is probably going to be my last Olympics,” the 26-year-old said. “Obviously, it’d be another year on top of this year and then another four on top of that, and I don’t know whether I’d like to be competing by the time it comes to L.A. (and Riviera Country Club).

“(Paris is) definitely the biggest thing that’s lingering in my mind. … It’d be pretty surreal to say that you’ve medaled at all three of the Olympics since its return in over 100 years… it’d be really cool to say I have the trio of all three colours.” Ko is used to making history, too. She won her first LPGA event at the age of 15 and her first major at 18 – in each case, she was the youngest to ever do so. And when she was ranked No. 1 in the world at the age of 17, she was the youngest male or female to reach that position. The competition on the Albatros Course at Le Golf National, designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge, will be challenging, though. The men’s stroke-play event will be

held Aug. 1-4, 2024 while the women take center stage Aug. 7-10. The players are selected from the Olympic Golf Rankings (which are based on the Offi cial World Golf Ranking). The top 15 men and top 15 women are eligible to play in the Games — with a limit of four from a single country. Once past No. 15 in the Olympic Golf Rankings, there will be a maximum of two eligible players from each country that doesn’t already have two or more in the top 15. Ko currently ranks third behind No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea and Korda, the 2020 gold medalist, who is also looking to have another shot at a medal. “I kind of had watery eyes,” Korda told Golf Channel after her victory. “I was like wow, this is surreal. You don’t understand it until you’re in the position. It’s such an incredible feeling at the end of the day. “You’re not just playing for yourself you’re playing for your country. There’s so much history in the Olympics and just to be a part of that is amazing.” Scottie Scheffl er, who won the 2022 Masters Tournament and the 2023 PLAYERS Championship, leads the men’s Olympic Golf Rankings. A rookie on the PGA TOUR in 2020, he would be making his Olympic debut, as potentially would two other U.S. players currently ranked among the top six – Patrick Cantlay and Max Homa, if they can hold onto their spots. Reigning gold medalist Xander Schauff ele is also well positioned in the mix for the Americans with a little over a year – and six major championships, two in 2023 and all four in 2024 — to go before the teams are finalized. World No. 2 Jon Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, is looking to potentially begin his Olympic experience in Paris. He had to withdraw from the Tokyo Games – postponed until the summer of 2021 as the coronavirus continued to spread – due to a positive COVID test of his own. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who currently

MCILROY ACKNOWLEDGED THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT HAD “BITTEN HIM” IN TOKYO. BUT HE THINKS HE’LL HAVE A BETTER CHANCE TO COME HOME WITH SOME HARDWARE IN PARIS NOW THAT HE’S BEEN TO AN OLYMPICS AND KNOWS WHAT TO EXPECT.

is third in the Olympic rankings, was part of an unusual seven-man playoff for the bronze medal in Tokyo that was won by C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei. Entering the competition, McIlroy said he wasn’t sure of what to expect at the Olympics but playing for his country clearly impacted the 34-year-old. “It makes me even more determined to go to Paris and try to pick one up,” McIlroy said after missing out on the bronze medal. “It’s disappointing going away from here without any hardware, I’ve been saying all day I never tried so hard in my life to finish third. “But it’s been a great experience. Today was a great day to be up there in contention for a medal, certainly had a different feeling to it than I expected and yeah as I said I’m already looking forward to three years’ time and trying to go at least one better but hopefully three better.”

McIlroy acknowledged the Olympic spirit had “bitten him” in Tokyo. But he thinks he’ll have a better chance to come home with some hardware in Paris now that he’s been to an Olympics and knows what to expect. “I would come in with a slightly different mindset of targeting a medal just instead of seeing how it goes and seeing what the experience is like,” the four-time major champion said. “But I would like to keep the sort of relaxed vibe and atmosphere that we have had within the team all week, because I think honestly, part of the reason I played well this week is because of that atmosphere that we have had.” That’s the Olympic experience at its best.

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