Olympic Men's Golf Preview

·6 min read

It's an off-week for the PGA TOUR but the show goes on overseas as a field of 60 golfers readies for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

It will be the fourth time that golf has featured in the Olympics (1900, 1904, 2016). The format is a 72-hole stroke-play event with four guaranteed rounds for each golfer.

The tournament will kick off on Thursday morning, local time. Television coverage will begin on at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday night in the States.

The Course

The East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club is the host venue this week.

The course was founded in 1929 and the primary architect was C.H. Alison who renovated the course just a year after it was completed. Alison worked closely with Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie for much of his career. He is a very big name when it comes to the history of golf architecture in Japan.

Alison is known for his deep bunkers which are still called "Alison bunkers" in Japan.

The course got a major makeover by Tom Fazio in 2016 which added a lot of length, removed some trees, and removed the two-green system.

This isn't a history lesson, though. Let's get right into this week's course layout.

The East Course at Kasumigaseki CC is a par 71 that plays up to 7,447 yards. The par 5s all stretch out past 580 yards (two over 630 yards) so if you remove those from the equation then it becomes a lot more manageable.

Off the tee, golfers will have generous landing areas. Originally the course utilized double greens, one for cool-season and one for the warm season, but that was condensed into one green per hole when Tom Fazio came in to do his renovation work. When you had multiple targets to hit into, you needed wider fairways to allow for proper angles.

Unlike last week at TPC Twin Cities, water is not a primary story. There are two holes where golfers may find water. Both of those hazards come on approach shots (9th and 18th) but I don't envision a lot of water balls at the ninth since you would have to miss well right to find the drink.

As for those Alison bunkers, there are two to five bunkers on each hole, around 60 in total.

The greens themselves are going to be larger than TOUR average and quite undulating, but not extreme.

For turf talk, golfers will see zoysia from tee to green with bentgrass putting surfaces. The greens can get rolling upwards of 13 feet on the stimp, if they desire.

If we are trying to guess how easy or tough the course will play, I think the weather will dictate a lot of that. Overall, I would expect this to play easier than the average course out on the PGA TOUR.

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Correlated Courses

Without any history to lean on, let's look at some quotes from across the industry.

Brad Klein of Golf Advisor comped it to Quail Hollow Club.

Sean Zak of Golf.com had a discussion with Tommy Fleetwood and his caddie and they threw out Harbour Town, Riviera, Spyglass Hill, and Bellerive during their conversation.

Sean Martin of the PGA TOUR spoke with agronomist Dennis Ingram who said it had a Monterey Peninsula feel. He also featured a quote from Tom Fazio who said the course had the feel of a Northeast Donald Ross design (Detroit GC?).

When I hear generous landing areas and large greens I think of Nine Bridges and Kapalua.

Want a comp for the hot and humid tropical weather? Perhaps TPC Kuala Lumpur would be good for that.

Lastly, is there another C.H. Alison design that was renovated by Tom Fazio more recently? The Seaside Course at Sea Island.

I think it's a tricky nut to crack but a combination of these quotes should give us a rough idea of what to expect this week.

The Weather

Thursday: Cloudy with afternoon storms possible. High of 92 degrees (heat index of 101 degrees). Winds at 5 to 8 MPH.

Friday: Partly sunny, warm and humid. High of 92 degrees (heat index of 103 degrees). Winds at 6 to 9 MPH.

It's typhoon season in the area so heavy storms can't be ruled out. On top of that the heat index will exceed 100 degrees for most of the week.

Golfers to Watch

Hideki Matsuyama
He will have the media pressure on him this week as he tries to bring home the gold for the host country. He's won two big events at Kasumigaseki, the 2009 Japan Junior and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur (played on the West Course) which is was launched his career.

Sungjae Im
Speaking of pressure, earning a medal this week would make him exempt from military duty. We've seen what a big break like that can do for a career, with Sangmoon Bae the most recent and glaring example. The same can be applied to Si Woo Kim this week. They have both circled this event for months, if not years.

Collin Morikawa
Making his first start since becoming Champion Golfer of the Year, it's easy to see why he starts the week as the early favorite. He has gained 42.2 strokes tee-to-green over the last two months which is 11 more than the next closest in this week's field (Patrick Reed).

Jhonattan Vegas
I just mentioned Reed above, who is a late entry into the field after Bryson DeChambeau withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test result. Reed is one of the golfers that will be arriving without much, if any, prep at Kasumigaseki CC. Vegas and Mito Pereira are two others in that category. Vegas capped off a runner-up finish at TPC Twin Cities to stay hot while Pereira backdoored a T6 finish to find some momentum. Will that strong play outweigh jet lag and lack of course prep? It's a decision that gamers will have to make before the games begin.

Xander Schauffele
He was on the fence about playing in the Olympics until recently. It was a talk with his father that pushed him over and now he's all-in. Schauffele is a big-game hunter and arrives with four top 3s this season. He hasn't won since the 2019 Tournament of Champions but he likely arrives with some of the highest probability in terms of cracking the podium at week's end.

Ranking the Field

1. Xander Schauffele
2. Collin Morikawa
3. Viktor Hovland
4. Justin Thomas
5. Paul Casey
6. Hideki Matsuyama
7. Rory McIlroy
8. Sungjae Im
9. Cameron Smith
10. Abraham Ancer
11. Patrick Reed
12. Joaquin Niemann
13. Corey Conners
14. Shane Lowry
15. Tommy Fleetwood
16. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
17. Guido Migliozzi
18. Garrick Higgo
19. Si Woo Kim
20. Marc Leishman