Tiger Woods has repeatedly cited the 2020 Olympic Games as a goal of his this season, but given the talent near the top of the United States golf hierarchy and Woods’ limited schedule, it’s been floated that Woods may need some outside help to make his way onto the team.
While a qualifier laying down his Team USA polo like Rudy Ruettiger’s Notre Dame teammates may have been a stretch, the words of Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia hinted that such a gesture for the generations greatest player may not even be needed.
“I know some of my friends have made Olympic teams before and they said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Woods said towards the end of 2019. “I have never played for a gold medal before and certainly it would be an honor to do it, and especially at the age I’ll be, I’ll be 44 and I don’t know if I have many more chances after that.”
The Olympic golf model, which only allows four competitors from each country to compete so long as they are inside the Official World Golf Rankings top-15 at the time of the June 22 cutoff, would require Woods to outduel the likes of Koepka, Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed and Tony Finau — all of whom are currently within the OWGR top-15 — for one of four spots.
As it currently stands following the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods sits in that fourth and final spot, but the rolling and deteriorating nature of the OWGR means that some of Woods high finishes such as his 2019 Masters victory and his 2018 Tour Championship win will have a diminished impact on his world-ranking average by June.
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Woods’ road to Tokyo gets exponentially easier, however, if those ranked above him opt not to play, and by the sounds of things coming from the Saudi International on Tuesday, Koepka and Johnson sound far from committed to competing.
“The Olympics is still even new,” Koepka said on Tuesday. “You know, it’s not something I grew up wanting to do. Golf wasn’t in the Olympics. It was never an option. So kind of don’t know how I feel about that. I think it’s an incredible honor. You ask most athletes that are running 100 meters, gymnastics, anything like that, that they wait four years for that.
“We have four majors a year. Track, you’ve got indoors and outdoor championships, different things like that, but that’s their big event, the Olympics, and it only comes around every four years. Golf, we’ve got four majors every year, and now we’re going to add the Olympics and you’ve got the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, plus the FedExCup for us, and that’s a lot of weeks on the road, a lot of weeks traveling back and forth, a lot of time zones.
“You know, it just all kind of depends on how you feel, how your body feels. To me, the four majors are definitely more important for me. The FedExCup, too. That’s a goal of mine. We’ll see where everything else falls.”
Johnson was similarly noncommittal to the Olympic option.
“Schedule is always a big part of your season,” Johnson said. “You sit down at the beginning of the year just to kind of see, what events fall where. Representing the United States in the Olympics is something that I definitely would be proud to do, but is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that.
“There are so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So, you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”
As DJ referenced, the Olympics falls at a busy time of the Tour calendar. Over the course of 6 weeks, the best players in the world will be teeing it up in New York at the U.S. Open, in Tennessee at the WGC-Memphis, in England at the Open Championship and possibly in Japan for the Olympics.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs then kick off two weeks later in Massachusetts, and the Ryder Cup takes place a few weeks later in Wisconsin, so the travel is definitely something to be taken into consideration.
The men’s competition begins on July 30 at Japan’s Kasumigaseki Country Club. Justin Rose is the defending gold medalist.