The toughest decision for Olympic golfers? To stay in the Village, or near the course
KAWAGOE, Japan — The 32nd Olympiad is known as the Tokyo Olympics, or the 2020 Olympics, two names that just don’t ring true for the golfers in Japan. First, these 2020 Olympics are taking place in 2021. But second, take a look at the beginning of this article. The host course, Kasumigaseki Country Club, is located in Saitama — close enough to drive, but it sure isn’t Tokyo.
That drive is a tricky thing for competitors this week. They can avoid it entirely by staying in hotels near the golf course, as many Tour pros do all year round, or they can stay in the Olympic Village with thousands of other athletes, where the trappings are oh, so delightful, and won’t be available to them for at least another three years.
Take Tommy Fleetwood’s experience thus far. He’s staying in a Team Great Britain block of “apartments,” as they’re called, with the Union Jack hanging from the balconies. If his Monday evening tweet is any indication, he’s having a blast: “Please excuse my language but I’d just like to say that I F*@%ING LOVE THE OLYMPICS!!!!”
Team GB’s male golfers arrived in the Village Saturday, and before long Fleetwood was enjoying the complimentary masseuse services. He was even invited to a sparring session with the British boxing team. “Tommy in boxing mitts. I can’t wait to film it,” his caddie, Ian Finnis, said.
There’s plenty on offer in the Village, even during a pandemic. Free laundry services. A barbershop. A sprawling gymnasium to accommodate thousands of athletic freaks, and an impeccable, 24/7 food court that everyone seems to rave about. There’s also a bit of celebrity floating around.
In between her arrival and a visit to the nail salon, Mexico’s Gaby Lopez ran into Simone Biles, perhaps the greatest gymnast of all-time. Later, she posed for a mandatory selfie with Mexican footballer Guillermo Ochoa. Tennis star Novak Djokovic isn’t even staying in the Village, but is visiting most days and has been stopped constantly by athletes of other disciplines, asking for advice on how to deal with pressure. Team USA’s basketball stars left their hotel on a special trip to check out the scene and take photos in the Village. Clearly, there’s a bit of magnetism to it for all athletes. It’s just the golfers can’t agree on if they should actually stay there overnight.
The American golfers are decidedly out on the Village. Both Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa made clear they value sleeping nearer the course. “Do I wish I could experience the Village, and what it would be like to just see all the other athletes and how they train and how they work with their physios and things like that?” Schauffele said. “Yes, I think that would be a really cool experience.
“But I’m staying 20 minutes away and it’s golf for us. It’s tricky when you have to do a lot two hours before an 8 o’clock tee time … I decided to go the route of staying 20 or 30 minutes away just because of that.”
Therein lies the dilemma. Even with a limited field, players will hit the course in threesomes Thursday and Friday, between 7:30 and 11:09 a.m. local time. They might be used to waking up before dawn, but waking up before 4 a.m.? That’s too much for Schauffele. And while you can get lucky with Tokyo’s elevated traffic system — highways situated above city streets, weaving among the downtown buildings — the commute from the Village is almost surely 90 minutes. Tuesday at 5 p.m. it was a 70-minute ride, no traffic. But Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. it was a full 100-minute trek. You won’t find any four-lane interstates between the Village and KCC. The quickest route is actually quite meandering.
The commute to the course has everyone’s attention, for better or worse, but as Schauffele said, “You can’t just put a course anywhere,” in the way a skateboard park was erected just for these two weeks, about one mile from the Village. Many a golfer’s worst nightmare involves being late for a tee time, or not getting a proper warmup. Ask Sergio Garcia, who at the Open Championship earlier this month required a police escort to navigate the heavy traffic around Royal St. George’s.
“With our bodies, it’s not ideal to sit in a car for a couple of hours beforehand,” Australian Marc Leishman said. He and his teammate Cam Smith are staying in a hotel in Saitama. “So that was our thinking behind that, try and prepare like it was a major. I think I would love to stay at the Olympic Village, but it just wasn’t as convenient as we maybe would have liked this year.”
There’s also the company they keep. Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners both brought their wives as “personal coaches” this week, skirting the rules about non-essential visitors to Japan. Caddies and physios are allowed in the village but family is not. Schauffele’s father, Stefan, who is also his swing coach, cannot get into the Village. His credential won’t allow it. Morikawa’s girlfriend, also listed as a personal coach, is not permitted. For the Canadian players’ wives, it’s the same story.
But for those going about the Olympics solo, the Village is the place to be. Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Kristian Johannessen have enjoyed their visits so much that they’re in the process of moving from their hotel near the course into the Village. A reverse relocation. The gym is too good, and as Hovland said, “you can eat whenever you want. They have access to all the foods that you want and need.” Sometimes life is that simple.
Mexico’s Abe Ancer and Carlos Ortiz were planning to stay in a hotel near the course, too, but pulled the plug last-minute in favor of the Village. “I mean it’s an experience,” Ortiz said. “You walk in and you go through a checkpoint. After that it’s like you walk into a different world.”
Where else on the PGA Tour schedule can you find a boccia simulator? Or self-driving busses?
“I normally like to get to my tee time two hours before to eat and work out or whatever and hit some balls,” Ancer said. “So that’s the only downside of it, but I think it’s the right move. I mean I just want to get the full experience.“
They seem to be doing just that. Ortiz is shacking up in a four-bed, two-bath apartment with members of the Mexican boxing team while Ancer is doing the same with the equestrian squad. Like freshmen in dormitories have long experienced, Ancer was surprised to find out just how many mutual friends he shared with his new, horse-jumping pals. He never could have learned that out in the suburban countryside of Saitama. Only in the Village.
“I wish the golf course was right next to it,” Ancer said, speaking for much of the field. “That would be amazing.”