Olympic countdown: One year to Rio

By Rex HoggardAugust 5, 2015, 12:00 pm

For Antony Scanlon, a vision and years of work have started to become very real. Twelve months from Wednesday, the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics will be held with 120 golfers joining the Parade of Nations for the first time in 112 years.

For Scanlon, the executive director of the International Golf Federation, the opening ceremony has been the ultimate goal since the International Olympic Committee announced golf’s return to the Games in October 2009. But it’s been the countdown’s impact on potential Olympic golfers that has created a buzz.

“They are excited. They realize this is a rare opportunity to be part of the national team and some of them will play a leadership role within that team,” Scanlon told GolfChannel.com. “It’s excitement and a little of the unknown, what does it mean to be part of an Olympics?”

Among players, who have, until recently, largely offered a lukewarm embrace of golf’s return, the opening ceremony is a very real and very familiar part of the Olympics.

“It's a great opportunity for us. It's going to be an exciting event, going to be a great opportunity to be a part of something huge, to be the first golfer in a long time, anyway, to win a gold medal,” said Justin Rose, who is currently qualified to represent Great Britain next summer.

“It's going to have a lot going for it. Who knows, in 100 years’ time that might be the most sought-after achievement in golf.”

With just one year before the start of the Olympics, some of those unknowns are starting to crystallize, including what the fields for the men’s and women’s competitions may look like.

Each field will consist of 60 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which are based on the Official World Golf Ranking with countries (like the United States) having as many as four competitors if those players are ranked inside the top 15 in the world. If they are not in the top 15, countries are limited to two competitors.

Currently that field includes the game’s bestfrom world No. 1 Rory McIlroy to Jordan Spieth and Jason Day for the men; Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson for the women.

“It’s got the strength of the field which is what the IOC wanted. We also have maximum participation and diversity among the different countries,” Scanlon said. “Right now, we have 35 different countries for the women and 36 for the men, so we are ticking the boxes in terms of diversity and strength of field.”

Scanlon said the current field is similar to the diversity and strength of field for the Olympic tennis competitions, which would be the closest comparison with golf.

Until recently, the biggest concern for Scanlon and other members of the IGF has been the Olympic golf course, which endured numerous construction delays and legal challenges but seems to be back on schedule.

“We have all the grass down. It’s a fantastic design and we are coming up with what could potentially be a masterpiece,” he said. “We’re excited about it.”

Officials plan to play a test event on the course early next year. Although Scanlon said the IGF hasn’t finalized what the event will be, he did say an announcement should be made soon and that the IGF hopes it will include a number of “top professionals.”

For many of the potential athletes, however, there has been more interest in the Olympic village than the Gil Hanse-designed golf course.

In fact, Scanlon said the first question potential Olympic golfers ask him almost always involves the village.

“That’s the biggest question and all we can do is point them to other athletes who have done that,” said Scanlon, who added that it’s up to each country’s Olympic federation to decide where its athletes stay during the Games.

Golf got a taste of what it may be like next summer in Rio when the game made its first appearance in the Pan Am Games last month in Toronto.

A group of four American amateurs (two male and two female players) competed in the Pan Am Games, with Andrea Lee taking the silver medal for the U.S. in the women’s individual competition.

“It was very much a dry run for the Olympics,” said Andy Levinson, the executive director of USA Golf. “Getting to the city, working through security, staying in the athlete village, it was all very similar to what it will be like in the Olympics.”

The biggest distinction between the Olympics and last month’s Pan Am Games has also been one of the central points of contention for some. Unlike the format for the Rio Games, there was a mixed-team competition that combined the lowest male and female scores each day, with the United States winning the silver medal.

Next summer in Rio the event will only be a traditional 72-hole stroke-play format, a decision that has been criticized in some circles. But as Scanlon explained, golf’s return to the Olympics required a conservative approach.

“That [individual stroke play] was what the players wanted and the Olympic Games are not an event where you experiment. [The IOC] wanted a tried and true competition,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon said the IGF will meet with the IOC following next year’s Olympics to review the competition, including the format and any potential changes for the 2020 Games.

But that meeting, which will be held in July 2017, will have far greater implications than a possible format change. IOC officials will approve the sports for the 2024 Games at that gathering, which essentially means golf’s only chance to remain an Olympic competition beyond 2020 is next summer in Rio.

“We’ve got one opportunity to assure we deliver a great competition,” Scanlon said.

The one-year countdown to the Rio opening ceremony means many things to many people. For potential players, it’s a chance to start dreaming of Olympic gold. For Scanlon and the IGF, it’s one final push to make sure they get it right.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x