Now that 2016 has arrived, anticipation for golf’s return to the Olympics this summer will truly begin to rise. The event promises to be intriguing if for no other reason than its historic significance, the men playing for gold medals for the first time since 1904 and the women for the first time ever.
If qualifying for the Olympics was based on the world rankings as of Jan. 1, 36 nations would be represented in the 60-person men’s field and 34 countries would be on hand for the women. However, what’s more intriguing—and will likely be more controversial when the actual July 11 cutoff for qualifying arrives—are those who won’t be going to Rio de Janeiro in August.
Right now, 10 of the top-25 men in the Official World Golf Rankings (nine of them Americans) and 11 of the top-25 women in the Rolex Rankings (eight Koreans and three Americans) would be left out. Included, instead, would be 14 players ranked outside the top 200 for the men (you have heard of Fiji’s Vijay Singh, ranked No. 253, but what about Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman, No. 304?) and 22 women outside the top 200 (remember Jennifer Rosales of the Philippines, who is now No. 446?).
Here’s the way qualifying will work: Players in the top 15 in the OWGR and the Rolex Rankings automatically gain entry into the Olympic field—except there is a limit of four per country. For players outside the top 15, there is a limit of two per country. Fifty-nine players qualify on rankings with Brazil guaranteed the 60th spot in both the men’s and women’s events as the host country.
Only the United States would have more than two qualifiers for the men: Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. That means Jim Furyk and Patrick Reed, No. 9 and 10 in the world, would be staying home, along with British Open champ Zach Johnson, No. 13 in the ranking.
Here’s the complete list of the men in the top 25 who would be passed over:
No. 9 Jim Fuyrk, USA
No. 10 Patrick Reed, USA
No. 13 Zach Johnson, USA
No. 16 Brooks Koepka, USA
No. 17 Kevin Kisner, USA
No. 20 Matt Kuchar, USA
No. 22 Paul Casey, GBR
No. 23 Kevin Na, USA
No. 24 J.B. Holmes, USA
No. 25 Jimmy Walker, USA
On the women’s side, South Korea would be the lone country with four qualifiers: Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Sei Young Kim and Amy Yang. The U.S. would have three: Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson and Cristie Kerr.
And here are the women in the top 25 who would be left out:
No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim, South Korea
No. 10 In Gee Chun, South Korea
No. 14 Ha Na Jang, South Korea
No. 15 Bo-Mee Lee, South Korea
No. 16 Brittany Lincicome, USA
No. 19 Na Yeon Choi, South Korea
No. 21 Sun Ju Ahn, South Korea
No. 22 Mi Rim Lee, South Korea
No. 23 Alison Lee, USA
No. 24 Morgan Pressel, USA
No. 25 Jin Young Ko, USA
Thus winners of two of last year’s five women’s majors—Lincicome at the ANA Inspiration and Chun at the U.S. Women’s Open—will miss out on a chance at Olympic glory.
The two golfers representing Brazil currently are the lowest-ranked in the field—Adilson da Silva at No. 324 for the men (although he is better than No. 416 Tiger Woods) and Victoria Lovelady is No. 508 for the women. The next big number for the men is No. 306 Felipe Aguilar of Chile, while Lisa McCloskey of Colombia is at No. 449.
McCloskey, an All-American in a college career split between USC and Pepperdine, went to high school in Texas but was born in Bogota, which makes her eligible to play for Colombia. (And that could be something else people will be complaining about when the final Olympic field is set.)
Here's the men's qualifiers, by country, as of Jan. 1:
And here how the women's qualifiers would shake out: