KAWAGOE, Japan — For the second straight day at the Olympic golf event, inclement weather yanked players off Kasumigaseki Country Club, something Tour pros never enjoy. The horn blew at noon local time Friday, and after an hour players were told they could return to the course at 1:45 p.m. No big deal. Heck, it’s even customary in Japan for groups to take an hour-long lunch break after nine holes. Everyone in the field began warming up again shortly after 1 p.m.
But the way the week has gone, the field should have known not to trust the forecast. Tropical Storm Nepartak arrived Tuesday afternoon and remnant thunderstorms have covered the course on Wednesday night, Thursday afternoon, Thursday night and Friday afternoon.
Indeed, 10 minutes before the players were scheduled to restart, more bad news spread across the practice green: another delay. “Give me five fookin’ pars and let me go home,” Shane Lowry said when he found out. He had been in cruise control before the delay, birdieing five of his first 13 holes.
If the players had looked at the forecast, they wouldn’t have been surprised. But pros always listen to event organizers first before they pull out their phone and check the radar themselves. They were promised 1:45, and now they were promised another indefinite wait. Justin Thomas motored into the clubhouse for a bathroom break. He was the pace car, really, in the race to the air conditioning.
The heat index had swelled into the mid-90s, so those 32 tables and 132 chairs were in high demand. There might only be 60 players in the field, but that also means 60 caddies and dozens of team managers and physios. There were also female competitors (prepping for the women’s event next week) and their caddies hanging out. A dozen women had been practicing on the driving range when the horn blew, but now they were part of golf’s little game of musical chairs, too.
Not five minutes had passed before every seat in the clubhouse was occupied. Well, there was one available in the middle of the room next to Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Morikawa’s girlfriend, Catherine Zhu. The most intimidating open chair you’ve ever seen. There also were two free spots at the table where Cameron Smith and his caddie sat, but when asked, “Are these spots spoken for?” they gave a quick, one-word answer: Yep. Fellow Aussie Marc Leishman and his caddie were on the way.
This was golf’s version of a United Nations Summit. All you had to do was close your eyes and listen. Standing-room only had spilled out onto the lawn, where the boisterous Puerto Rican, Rafa Campos, held court for the Latin-American delegation. Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz — then the tournament leader — spoke in Spanish with Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas. China’s Ashun Wu breezed right through the group circle, straight to a manager on Team Colombia. They swapped smiles and national pins for their respective credentials, a popular Olympian ritual.
If we’re ranking the people who might be most irritated by the delay, Joachim Hansen from Denmark would be on the first page of the leaderboard. He had three feet left for birdie on 8 when the horn blew, but had to mark his ball and think about that putt for more than two hours. His caddie, Adam Drummond, kept to himself and his cell phone during the break, 10 feet from Spain’s Jorge Campillo, who did the same. Drummond is one of just a handful of caddies whose nationality doesn’t match the player for whom they’re caddying. He’s an Aussie based in London who caddies for a Dane and is married to a Ugandan woman. It makes sense that the location on his Twitter bio reads, “Usually away.”
For those worried about Covid protocols, just know that plexiglass separated every seat at every table, and a clubhouse attendant walked around passing out fresh masks. “I can’t go back until this box is empty,” she said.
Around 2 p.m., just as Viktor Hovland’s caddie reapplied some black duct tape to cover up the PING logo on his bag — sponsorship is a touchy subject at the Games — tournament staffers addressed the group. “Everyone needs to be in position at 2:20,” an official said. On the tee, in the fairway, on the green, wherever you were when the horn blew. Two-twenty, two-twenty, two-twenty. If there’s one thing that’s understood in all languages, it’s the time on a clock.
“Twenty minutes is too much and too little” said Drummond, Hansen’s looper. “Do you warm up or just head out to the course?” His guy rapped a couple putts, that three-footer surely on his mind. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada carried his own bag about 200 yards to the driving range. About a dozen others joined him out there for the truncated warmup of mostly drivers. Another 10 or so players visited the practice green. Others just loitered, confident or content, or both.
The women’s competitors were just as relieved. Reigning U.S. Open champ Yuka Saso had been standing for most of an hour, casually rehearsing her swing on repeat. “Finally, I can practice,” she said.
As much as the restart could have been a chaotic mess, 18 courtesy vehicles were lined up surrounding the putting green. Finally, a positive from having no fans on-site. From there, everything went off smoothly. The clubhouse was silent at 2:18, and the putting green empty, save for Shanshan Feng. The only thing that arrived late was the restart horn. It blew at 2:21. Hansen made his three-footer. Back to work.
Three hours later, a thunderstorm cleared the course again.