Tour Confidential: Have the Olympic-field shakeups tarnished the Games?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the start of the Olympic men’s golf competition, the newest women’s major champ, the 3M Open and more.
1. The men’s Olympic golf tournament begins this week, and already there is news. Late Saturday and early Sunday, both World No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau and top-ranked Jon Rahm were forced to withdraw due to positive Covid tests. Does this development in any way tarnish the tournament for you?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Yeah, of course! As does the fact that several other top players opted out before any of this began. And the lack of fans. And the general pall over this year’s Games. But once the competition starts, we’ll focus on the players who are there. Golfers will win medals, asterisk-free. I’m psyched.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): Losing (arguably) the two most marketable young stars in golf is going to hurt any tournament. But this tournament specifically? Man, what a letdown in such a big moment for the sport in proving its future in the Games.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Definitely. Bryson less-so, but Rahm a lot. His replacement is Jorge Campillo. Patrick Reed probably wanted to be here more than DeChambeau did. Was dreaming of a Rahm vs. Rory showdown. Thankfully we still have a handful of top 10 players involved.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Absolutely, it does. It further establishes the underlying challenge of having this Olympics in Japan in the first place.
2. As was the case in Rio in 2016, a handful of the biggest players on the men’s side elected to sit out the Games, but there are still plenty of stars to watch. What storyline(s) in Tokyo most has your attention as we inch toward the men’s and women’s competitions?
Dethier: It has to be Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim, competing for a medal and therefore an exemption from military conscription in South Korea. Based off other Korean players’ career trajectories, their golfing futures could change dramatically with a top-three finish. Hard to imagine rooting against those two.
Zak: Yeah if you want your home country to win gold, that’s fine. But if you’re cheering for anyone else, it might have to be the South Korean men. And that isn’t to slight the mandatory duty in that country. But it’s clear these guys would like to avoid it if possible. Plus, the golf fan in me doesn’t want to see them go away for two years!
Colgan: Few people have more to gain from their time in Tokyo than Joaquin Niemann. He hails from Chile, a country with only 50 total golf courses (fewer than the state of Rhode Island) and an estimated 15,000 recreational players. If he medals, it’ll be only the 14th in Chilean history and a gold would be only the third. (For context, Michael Phelps owns 24 gold medals on his own.) As he told me at the Memorial last month, a win in Tokyo would make him a national hero.
Bamberger: I guess I am most interested in seeing how the Korda sisters play and whether this event event helps promote the great cause of women’s global golf.
3. Minjee Lee rallied from an incredible seven shots down entering the final round to win the Evian Championship in a playoff with Jeongeun Lee6 and claim her first major victory. Was this unlikely finish more a case of Lee winning it or Lee6 letting the victory slip away?
Dethier: Both, as always. Lee6 played extremely loose golf on the front nine to let the field back in, but Minjee Lee closed incredibly well with five birdies in her final six holes. The second shot she hit into the playoff hole was major-legend stuff. She shouldn’t feel the slightest bit bad about the way she won this event.
Zak: You can generally tell how a big leader’s day is going to go based on how it starts, and Lee6’s day started shaky. I have no leading experience myself, but you just know that getting into the round with a bunch of pars is just a lot more calming than what she did Sunday.
Colgan: Lee6 left the window open, but Minjee deserves credit for climbing through it. Her performance down the stretch was nothing short of surgical. Super impressive stuff from a first-time major winner.
Bamberger: Lee’s winning, for sure. You post a number in the house and one of the hardest things to do in golf is for a leader to play in and match it or beat it.
4. The 585-yard par-5 18th at TPC Twin Cities on Saturday played as the toughest par-5 in a single round this year. Sung Kang made a 12, Rickie Fowler made an 8 and at least two players took off their shoes and went into the water to hit shots. It’s normally very playable, but with a tucked pin and high winds, scores ballooned. The hole was undoubtedly tough but did it cross the line to tricked-up?
Dethier: No! We’re used to par-5s being pushovers on Tour, but what’s wrong with a little chaos? No. 18 was tricky to navigate but far from impossible. The final hole of the day providing this much variability is terrific for viewers at home. Eagle is in play. So too is 12. As is the shot of the week, Cameron Champ’s deal-sealing gap wedge on Sunday afternoon. Good stuff.
Zak: This hole has just gotten better over the years, and basically with the 3M Open in mind, it seems. A much tighter landing zone off the tee, pushing players out to the left and around the bend. It’s basically everything that Bay Hill’s 6th hole wants to be (and maybe should become in the future). I’m all in on that.
Colgan: A winning score on the PGA Tour worse than 20 under shouldn’t be noteworthy. Perhaps it crossed the line into “mildly challenging,” and I’d gladly take that a little more frequently.
Bamberger: No, not at all. You have three shots to figure out how to get it on the green. No where in the Constitution does it say the third shot has to be close.
5. The USGA planted its amateur golf flag at Bandon Dunes this week, giving the Oregon resort a whopping 13 championships over the next 23 years, including four years where multiple events will be held. (The announcement follows Bandon hosting last year’s U.S. Men’s Amateur.) No one’s doubting the quality of the courses at Bandon, but any qualms with one destination becoming such a dominant force on the elite amateur scene?
Dethier: No. Thirteen championships sounds like a lot, but we’re talking about a real variety of events here — it’s not like the U.S. Am is going to be at Bandon every year. The Pacific Northwest golf mecca deserves to be a dream tournament destination, and it’s awesome that they’ll continue to host. Even if the contestants for 2045 junior tournaments are several years from being born.
Zak: No qualms! No qualms at all. Perhaps this will help me get out and visit Bandon for the first time myself.
Colgan: It’s certainly exciting from the perspective of giving each USGA Championship a “home course,” a la St. Andrews. Does the shotmaking and execution required at Bandon make it an ideal home for this championship? I don’t know, but I’m glad we’ll have the chance to find out.
Bamberger: I think it is a good fit. Resort golf, public golf, West Coast golf. I have only been once, but from what I have seen, Bandon deserves it.
6. Michael Campbell, during the first round of the Senior Open, accidentally hit a tee shot on his warmup swing, but was allowed to take a “mulligan” thanks to the Rules of Golf. What one shot in your own golf career do you most wish you could hit again?
Dethier: Wow, this unlocked a whole slew of terrible memories. Let’s go back to the state championship my junior year of high school, when I hooked a tee shot into the left woods at Waubeeka Golf Links, where I wound up with a brutal lie behind several trees. I tried the hero’s way out (several times) and wound up making septuple-bogey 11. Tough to swallow.
Zak: The big block that happens on repeat, once a month, every month, that induces a mental collapse and my 81 turns into an 89. I know that’s not one shot. But it’s one shot that I can’t get rid of.
Colgan: My entire golf career could be considered a regrettable amalgam of shots I wish I could have back. A few years back, I caddied in a member-guest in which my member’s tee shot struck the flagstick and rolled back into a lake on a par-3. We lost the tournament by one “point.” My wallet wishes I could have that back.
Bamberger: I hit a shot that hit a tree and then hit me. I would like to have that one again among many, many others.