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Why Kenyan golfers must prepare beyond Japan 2020

Golfer Greg Snow
Golfer Greg Snow lines up a putt at the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club’s leg of the Safari Tour Golf Series. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

With less than 365 days to the 2020 Olympics, the usual suspects are preparing to travel to Japan to bag medals for Team Kenya. Marathoners, track and field athletes have fine-tuned their training and competition calendars to sync with this global sporting extravaganza that will include over 11,000 people from over 200 nations competing for 339 gold medals across 33 different sports.

One of those 33 sports will be golf, which was reintroduced to the Olympics at the Rio 2016 games after a 112-year absence. Qualification to the Rio games was based on the Official World Golf Ranking for men and the Women’s World Golf Rankings with the top 15 qualifying automatically but with a limit of four players per country; the same criteria is in force for the 2020 games. The qualification window will close on June 22, 2020 for men and June 29 for women.

A total of 60 men and 60 women golfers will play golf at the 36-hole Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, Japan. So with the 15 slots each going to the top ranked golfers, the rest will be filled to the highest ranked players thereafter with a limit of two per country. Japan will get one slot as will each continent – Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. This last criterion will ensure that golfers from each of the five continents of the Olympic movement are included (www.igfgolf.org). The professional golfers will compete as individuals in a four-day 72-hole stroke-play championship.

Using the current Olympic Golf Rankings (not much different to the OWGR), the top 15 men to automatically qualify would include; Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau for Team USA, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey for Team GB, Francesco Molinari for Team Italy, Jon Rahm for Team Spain, Shane Lowry for Team Ireland, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman for Team Australia and Louis Oosthuizen for Team South Africa. Hideki Matsuyama is the top ranked Japanese player whilst the Rio silver medalist Swede Henrik Stenson would also qualify as would Austrian Bernd Wiesberger – winner of the 2017 KCB Karen Masters. South Africa’s Justin Harding would also qualify from the African continent. Harding finished joint second at the 2019 Magical Kenya Open.

In June 2019 and ahead of the US Open at Peeble Beach, Woods confirmed that he had every intention to compete for golf in Japan. "Olympic gold medal would be a hell of a feat," Woods said. "First, I need to qualify. It would be exciting if I got a chance to represent the United States in the Olympic Games." (www.golfdigest.com). Japan’s Matsuyama was one of the golfers who declined to play at the Rio games due to fears over the Zika virus. Other golf stars who opted out of Rio due to the same reason included Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Vijay Singh.

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The highest ranked Kenyan on the OWGR is Muthaiga’s Greg Snow, currently in the 1,327th position – he would need to put in a lot of work to move into the top 50 of the world in the next 11 months and get a shot at Japan. Thika’s Simon Ngigi is 1,678th and Mumias based Dismas Indiza is ranked in 2,071st place.

Among the lady professionals, Korea’s Jin-Young Ko, Sung Khun Park and Inbee Park would automatically qualify as would USA’s Lexi Thompson, Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang and Jessica Korda. Inbee Park was the gold medal finalist at the Rio games. Australia’s Minjee Lee, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, Canada’s Brooke Henderson and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka would also qualify. The top ranked African lady golfers include Ashleigh Buhai and Lee-Anne Pace from South Africa ranked in 123rd and 233rd positions (www.rolexrankings.com).

The games take place from the 24th of July to August 9, 2020, will Kenya be represented in golf? Perhaps not in Japan, but there is time to prepare for Paris 2024.

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