All About Olympic Golf: Qualifying, Format & Beyond

Updated August 29, 2022
2016 Olympic golf medalists show their medals
    2016 Olympic golf medalists show their medals
    Getty Image License

For just the second time in the past century, golf is a part of the Olympic Summer Games, set to kick off next month in Japan. The COVID pandemic postponed the 2020 Olympics to the summer of 2021 and while the Games aren’t completely in the clear, the International Olympics Committee seems poised for the event to start as planned.

The men’s competition is slated for July 29th through August 1st; the women’s event August 4th through 7th.

History of Golf in the Olympics

Golf has only been included as a competition in the Summer Olympic Games three previous times – 1900 in Paris, 1904 in St. Louis and 2016 in Rio.

In 2016, Great Britain’s Justin Rose became golf’s first gold medalist in 112 years after beating Sweden’s Henrik Stenson by two strokes with a 16-under-par 268 at Brazil’s Olympic Golf Course. American Matt Kuchar finished three strokes back, earning the bronze medal.

The stroke-play tournament consists of four rounds over four days, matching most Tour tournament formats.

On the women’s side, Inbee Park from South Korea won the gold in 2016, also shooting 16-under-par at the Olympic Golf Course, followed by Lydia Ko (silver) of New Zealand and China’s Shanshan Feng (bronze).

As COVID concerns loom over this year’s Olympic Games, it is interesting to note that many of the world’s top golfers withdrew from the 2016 Games with concern over the Zika virus epidemic. The world’s top four ranked golfers at the time did not compete: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

Johnson, currently the top-ranked golfer in the world, confirmed in March that he will not compete in the 2021 Olympics, citing hesitancy to travel to and from Japan “in the middle of a big stretch of golf.”


How to Qualify

Each event – men and women - consists of 60 players. Since Japan is the host country, it will be represented by at least one golfer in the men and women’s events. The top 15 golfers in the the men’s Official World Golf Rankings and women’s Rolex Rankings, qualify for the Olympics with a maximum of four golfers from each country.

Golfers outside the top 15 in the rankings will be selected in order of their rank, up to two per country, undtil the 60-player field is filled.

Qualification Number of Qualifiers
Host Country Guarantee 1
Top 15 World Rank Up to 4 per country
16+ in World Rank Up to 2 per country in order of rank until field is full (60 players)

The top-15 rule affects the United States on both the men’s and women’s sides, as well as the Korean women. The USA currently has 10 golfers ranked in the top 15 of the men’s World Golf Rankings and five inside the women’s top 15. Korea has four women in the top 15 and two ranked 16-20. Rather than simply needing to get into the top 15, those players would also need to be among the top four from their country in order to qualify.

Men’s qualifying ends on June 21st, the day after the conclusion of the U.S. Open; the women’s qualifying ends on June 28th.


Likely Field at the Olympics

The world’s top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, has already confirmed that he will not compete at the 2021 summer’s games, concentrating instead on the PGA Tour schedule. If the Olympic field were chosen today, the United States would be represented by Justin Thomas (2), Bryson DeChambeau (4), Xander Schauffele (5) and Collin Morikawa (6) with Brooks Koepka (7) as the first alternate.

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia would represent Spain, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry would represent Ireland, Viktor Hovland would represent Norway and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, along with Rikuya Hoshino would represent host-county Japan.

For the women, five Americans currently rank in the top 15 of the world rankings, with Nelly and Jessica Korda, Danielle Kang, and Lexi Thompson sitting in the top four spots. The top three golfers in the world are all from Korea – Jin Young Ko, defending Olympic champion Park and Sei Young Kim, with Hyo-Joo Kim in 7th.


Where is the 2021 Olympic Golf Course?

Kasumigaseki Country Club, located about 30 miles northwest of Tokyo, is the host course for this year’s Olympics. The world-renowned private golf club opened in 1929 and has hosted tournaments like the Canada Cup, Asian Amateur Championship and the Japan Open Golf Championship.

The 36-hole club features an East and West course; the Olympics will be played on the East course which was redesigned by Tom Fazio in 2016. Lined by trees, the rolling fairways offer challenges and views at each hole. The par-71 course measures 7,466 yards from the tournament tees.

Among the most challenging holes is the par-4 ninth hole, a 521-yard dogleg with water protecting both sides of the green. The course features two par-5s over 600 yards long, the fifth and 14th holes.


Golf Fans Will Tune In

Golf had a welcomed return to the Olympics in 2016. According to NBC and the Golf Channel, the men’s Olympic golf final round coverage ranked as the second highest-rated 90-minute window of final round golf coverage in 2016, ranking only behind the Masters.

Will you follow Olympic golf this year?

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