Team USA’s final Olympics spots? Furious races are brewing

Defending gold medalist Nelly Korda is a lock to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Defending gold medalist Nelly Korda is a lock to make the U.S. Olympic team.

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These days, men’s professional golf is beset with massive questions about the future of the sport. We’ll save those for another day.

Because right now it’s the little stuff that’s much more intriguing.

Take, for instance, the quest to make this year’s Presidents Cup team. On the U.S. side, the current standings would include Sahith Theegala (No. 5) as an automatic qualifier while would-be first timers Chris Kirk, Russell Henley, Eric Cole and J.T. Poston occupy spots 9-12. Team regulars Sam Burns (No. 13), Justin Thomas (No. 14) and Jordan Spieth (No. 25) would require captain’s picks.

On the International side there are a handful of Canadians desperate to play in their home cup, with Nick Taylor (No. 5), Corey Conners (No. 9), Adam Hadwin (No. 11), Taylor Pendrith (No. 13), Mackenzie Hughes (No. 18) and Adam Svensson (No. 21) all in the discussion for Mike Weir’s September selections. Pendrith’s recent win boosted his chances tremendously. Masters invites, tournament exemptions, FedEx Cup points, national team qualification — these are the subplots of day-to-day life on Tour.

But while the Presidents Cup selections are still months away, we’ve arrived in the thick of the battle for Team USA’s Olympic qualifying. On both the men’s and women’s side there’s little question who will be in the team’s No. 1 spot — Scottie Scheffler and Nelly Korda have blown out their competition — but the rest of the roster is intriguing.

How does qualifying work? It’s relatively simple. The field of 60 is filled by the top players in the world as determined by the Official World Golf Ranking, with one exception: Each country only gets two players unless it has more than two inside the top 15; then it gets up to four players.

That means, as with most Olympic sports, the competition to qualify for one country may be stiffer than for another. Enter Team USA.

Team USA — men’s side

2021 team: Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed (who replaced Bryson DeChambeau as alternate)

The locks: Scottie Scheffler is No. 1 in the world with 14.7 average points. What does that mean? It means he’s making the team.

Coming off his PGA Championship victory, reigning gold medalist Xander Schauffele is No. 2 at 8.66 average points. He, too, is essentially a lock to make the team.

The almost-lock: Wyndham Clark, the reigning U.S. Open champ, missed the cut at the PGA Championship but still sits at No. 4 in the world at 6.21 points. He’s very likely to make the roster, too — unless multiple guys from further down the list make big-time moves in the coming weeks.

The contenders: Patrick Cantlay hasn’t missed a cut since last summer and he’s logged a T3 and a T4 in Signature Events this year. He’s currently in position to nab the final spot at No. 8 with 4.60 average points. That puts him just ahead of Collin Morikawa, whose PGA Championship T4 boosted him from No. 13 to No. 9 with 4.28 points. That catapulted him past Max Homa (No. 10, 4.10) and Brian Harman (No. 11, 4.08) and Sahith Theegala (No. 12, 4.02).

The dark horses: It’s plausible that someone could make a massive leap with a win or two in the coming weeks including the likes of Russell Henley (No. 16, 3.45), Cameron Young (No. 17, 3.36) or Keegan Bradley (No. 20, 3.11). Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth sit beside each other at No. 24 and No. 25. But time is getting short and just four tournaments remain: this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, the RBC Canadian Open, the Memorial and the U.S. Open. It’s getting to be now-or-never time for those hoping to rep the red, white and blue in Paris.

Team USA — women’s side

What’s fascinating about the dynamic on the U.S. women’s team is that it’s less about one American woman taking down another and more about the fourth-ranked woman sneaking inside the top 15.

2021 team: Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda

The locks: Nelly Korda — who won gold at the last Olympics — has 13.12 average points, more than double that of fellow American and World No. 2 Lilia Vu. They’ll be teammates in Paris.

The almost-lock: It would take something dramatic to unseat Rose Zhang from her perch at No. 7, where she sits with 4.81 points. The now-two-time LPGA winner will add some star power to the Olympic Village.

The contenders: This is where it gets interesting. Megan Khang sits on the bubble spot right now; she’s No. 15 with 3.75 points, just two-tenths ahead of No. 16 Maja Stark of Sweden. Khang will need to stay inside that 15th-place cutoff to make the squad. Other Americans will hope to challenge her for that place including Alison Lee (No. 18, 3.46) Allisen Corpuz (3.3, No. 21) and Angel Yin (No. 25, 3.01).

The LPGA is off this week before next week’s U.S. Women’s Open, which will have massive ramifications on final spots. The PGA Tour remains in nonstop motion, with several relevant names in the mix this weekend including Bradley, Morikawa, Harman and Spieth. (Plus Scheffler, of course.) One contender headed home early; Homa shot a surprising opening-round 78 and missed the cut.

He’ll have more chances, as will his competition. Just not very many more.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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