By Dean Murphy
New Zealand Golf Chief Executive
We are now well into 2016 and the Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil are now only a matter of months away.
Though golf has not featured in the Olympics since 1904, the sport will now be part of the programme for at least the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
Qualification will be based on world rankings as of July 11 of this year, with a total of 60 players qualifying in each of the men’s and women’s events.
The top 15 players in the world of each gender will qualify, with a limit of four golfers per country that can qualify this way. The remaining spots will go to the highest-ranked players from countries that do not already have two golfers qualified.
The International Golf Federation (IGF) has guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) will qualify. The IGF posts weekly lists of qualifiers based on current rankings for men and women on its website of igfgolf.org.
Once the field of 60 for each gender is set by the IGF, the local New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) will decide whether to select the golfers that have qualified to compete as part of the New Zealand team.
Traditionally, the NZOC selects athletes which it believes have the ability to finish inside the top 16 in their field in the Olympic context.
For golf, this presents some issues given the Olympic golf fields are unique and there is no other comparable events played under the Olympic exemption criteria in either the women’s or men’s game.
Additionally, unlike most Olympic sports, the highest ranked players in golf do not win each time they compete. By contrast the fastest ranked 100-metre runner in the world usually wins each time he or she races. Same for most other Olympic sports.
But golf is just not like this and even when Tiger Woods was at his absolute peak, he still won only around 20 percent of the events he competed in. This was a remarkable achievement but a very low percentage compared to other Olympic sports.
As it currently stands, Lydia Ko, Danny Lee and Ryan Fox are all comfortably siting inside the field of 60. However, Lydia Ko (as the world’s number one player) is the only New Zealander who ranks inside the world top 16 and is certain of selection by the NZOC.
Danny Lee and Ryan Fox have showed they can compete (and win) at the very highest level on the world stage and we at New Zealand Golf are confident these players will be selected if they do remain inside the IGF field of 60 for the Olympic Games.
Our organisation has been keeping statistics for a good number of years on the probability of players ranked outside the top 16 winning in events where the average world ranking of players is higher than what the Olympic field will be. We are confident that if players are eligible for the field of 60 that they will be selected by the NZOC.
In addition to the players mentioned above, there are a number of other players fighting their way up the world rankings and it promises to be an exciting run into early July when the final field and selections will be confirmed.
I’m personally extremely excited about the prospect of New Zealand golfers competing for gold in Rio. There are a number of people who have been reasonably negative about the reintroduction of golf to the Olympic programme. However, I can’t see how it will be anything but good for our game. I know the athletes are excited to compete for New Zealand at an Olympic Games and I am sure a whole new audience will see golf in a new light after the huge profile that will be generated for the sport.