How postponing the Tokyo Olympics drastically changes the golf calendar

What appeared inevitable in recent days became reality Tuesday as the Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed, meaning another big event on the golf calendar will not take place as scheduled.

The decision is understandable in light of the coronavirus pandemic but still heartbreaking for the dozens upon dozens of athletes whose sole focus for years has been the 2020 Games.

But golfers can be comforted in knowing that they potentially still have numerous big events to play in 2020. And a year postponement of Olympic golf actually gives the powers that be a better chance of resetting the schedule and making for a fairer qualification process.

Unlike the Rio Games in 2016, there was increased enthusiasm for the Tokyo golf competition. Those who skipped it four years ago — many citing the Zika virus — realized what they were missing. Rory McIlroy, for one, acknowledged the missed opportunity and appeared poised to represent Ireland this summer.

Inevitably, with the potential for a very hectic schedule once golf resumes, there were going to be those who passed on playing in Tokyo, especially on the men’s side. Well before the current pandemic took hold in the United States, Dustin Johnson announced he would be skipping the Games if he qualified due to the schedule. Brooks Koepka was undecided. Others would have followed, citing what promises to be a challenging situation.

That, again, would not have been a good look for Olympic golf.

So far, nine PGA Tour events have been canceled, while two majors — the Masters and PGA Championship — have been postponed.

If golf is able to resume a schedule in June — admittedly, optimistic — it would be looking at playing four major championships, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude and potentially three FedEx Cup playoff events. And the Ryder Cup. The men’s Olympic tournament was scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2, just two weeks following The Open and two weeks prior to the FedEx Cup playoffs.

The Olympic event was going to be squeezed even more.

“Having some level of certainty as to what’s going to happen or what’s not going to happen is probably the best thing to come out of this decision,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of global affairs who is also a vice president with the International Golf Foundation.

“You had athletes in other sports, not necessarily golf, who were having a hard time training because of the guidelines of social distancing and the gathering of people. Having that uncertainty removed I think is certainly beneficial.

“Even if conditions improve dramatically — and who knows in this dynamic kind of day-by-day change that is taking place — not having the Games is probably the right decision. If it does improve, at least as far as ’20 is concerned, it gives us some other options as far as scheduling.”

Now there is a sentiment to move the PGA Championship to the Olympic tournament slot, which would be two weeks after The Open — if the event in Sandwich, England, is able to go on as scheduled from July 16-19. If the U.S. Open can’t be played in June, there is the potential to play in September with the Masters already being widely discussed as getting an October date, two weeks after the Ryder Cup.

All of this, of course, assumes a lot of positive outcomes: that the virus is brought under control and sporting events are allowed to resume; that tournaments such as the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Masters are actually able to weather the numerous obstacles to changing dates; and that the various entities involved — PGA Tour, PGA of America, United States Golf Association, R&A and Augusta National — can work together in short order to make it happen.

Votaw said the leaders of the various organizations are speaking daily about these matters.

For women’s golf, it potentially creates a scheduling scenario for next summer that sees the Solheim Cup played in the same year as the Olympics — a challenge that men’s golf would have faced this year. But the LPGA Tour also was looking at a scheduling crunch later this year, and an Olympic postponement offers some relief.

All of this is forgetting one more potential benefit for the men’s game: the availability of Tiger Woods. Nothing would give golf a bigger boost than to have the game’s most recognizable star as part of the festivities.

Woods, 44, has made no secret of his desire to make the U.S. team. And you can tell by the answers he’s given when asked on numerous occasions that he is not paying lip service to the idea, knowing that this is his last realistic chance.

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