ATLANTA – By the time the men’s golf Olympic line-ups were finalized on Tuesday, three top 12 invitees respectfully conveyed their regrets. World runner-up Dustin Johnson of the United States, who confirmed his decision in March, was eleventh-placed Tyrrell Hatton of Great Britain and twelfth Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who finished second in the last two major tournaments. Oosthuizen said family commitments were partly responsible for his decision to bypass the Games, particularly after his recent purchase of an 86-acre horse farm in Ocala, Florida.
For Sophia Popov, family considerations explain an enthusiastic acceptance of the chance to pursue an Olympic gold medal delayed by the pandemic. Popov, 28, has dual American and German citizenship, has secured a place in the 60-player competition, represents Germany and is realizing a dream that, for various reasons, escaped her maternal grandmother, mother and older brother.
“The Olympics are a big deal for me,” said Popov, the reigning British Open women’s champion, on Wednesday.
This year, as in 2016, golf’s superficial roots are being exposed at the Olympics by the limited interest shown by men. The women are a different story, they are fighting hard for the places in the field that will be finalized after this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The top 15 players in the world are eligible for the Olympics, including up to four players from a single country. The rest of the field is filled with a maximum of two players per nation according to the ranking list.
Because of the internationals, Popov, the 22nd player, is slated for the Tokyo games, while Ally Ewing, 18th place, is one of several Americans who could make it through the fourth jump with a win this week at the Atlanta Athletic Club in The US -Player Jessica Korda, who is in 13th place, 10 places behind her younger sister Nelly. Between the Korda sisters, the Americans Danielle Kang are in 6th place and Lexi Thompson in 7th place.
“It takes good golf this week, but it would of course be a great honor,” said Ewing, 28, who won her second LPGA Tour title last month. “I think one of the coolest things for me, aside from being an Olympian, would be just running alongside other Olympians like Allyson Felix and just people I’ve seen on TV for so many years.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympic Games will take place in a heavily scaled-down version with limited audience numbers, no international fans and limited movement between the venues for athletes and other members of the Olympic contingent.
“I think one of the big things is the Olympic experience and what I was able to do is not going to be possible for the boys this year,” said Rickie Fowler, who competed in the men in 2016 when golf was back in the games for the first time Time since 1904. Speaking at a remote press conference Wednesday of this week’s PGA Tour stop in Connecticut, Fowler added, “The Olympics will generally not be the same experience.”
The women don’t care. They appreciate what the Olympic Games can offer: the opportunity to compete in front of the largest global audience in sport.
“I think it was a great chance for us to actually play the same golf course as the men and show the world how good the women golfers are,” said Shanshan Feng, the 2016 bronze medalist from China.
She added, “I think we should do everything we can to support the game and women’s golf. I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe most or even all of the ladies who come in go to Tokyo. “
Basics of the Summer Olympics
Three weeks after the men’s Olympic golf competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club, about 23 miles north of Tokyo, the PGA Tour is slated to begin its postseason with three tournaments, which offer a total of 60 million US dollars. The LPGA’s total budget for the 2021 season was estimated at $ 76.5 million.
“These players can retire when they’re done with their careers,” said Australian Hannah Green, the 2019 Women’s PGA Champion, referring to her PGA Tour counterparts. But on the LPGA track, she continued, most players will retire to maternity or other full-time employment.
“That perspective has probably changed when you’re playing for money rather than a medal,” said Green, who added that she would trade her main title for a gold medal.
“I think because it’s so rare to get a gold medal – every four years,” said Green, adding, “I think everyone would notice, not just the golf world.”
Popov grew up with a love for the Olympics. Her mother, Claudia Schwarzer Popov, was a stellar swimmer at Stanford whose Olympic dreams were diverted in 1980 because of the US-led boycott and in 1984 because of an elbow injury.
Claudia’s mother, Sabine Schwarzer, qualified for the German team in the high jump at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. However, due to an injury and moving to the United States to join her fiancé, she did not run.
Popov’s brother Nicholas, who competed for the University of Arizona, swam 50 meters freestyle in the US Olympic Trials in 2012 but did not get out of the preliminary round.
“He was kind of depressed,” said Popov, adding that her brother traveled to London to watch and cheer on his friends who qualified.
“The reason I didn’t become a swimmer,” said Popov, “is because of the heartache. My mother said, ‘I want to teach you to swim, but I wouldn’t be mad if you didn’t become a swimmer because it’s a very rewarding sport.’ “
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Popov will finally be attending the Olympics, although her family will not be traveling to Tokyo to share the experience with her. It’s a small consolation, but her mom and brother made fun of the Olympic rings tattoo, the must-have status symbol for all qualifiers.
They said they had written “brother” or “mother” under the rings, Popov explained with a laugh. “I thought you can do what you want.”
She said her experiences helped motivate her. “I have two other people to represent,” she said, “that I could have had in the past.”