Next year, golf will be in the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. There is an incredibly amount of uncertainty as to how the world of golf will embrace the Olympics, and how golf will look on the Olympic stage.
We will get a sneak peak next week.
The Pan-American Games begin tonight, and for the first time ever, golf will be a part of the program. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as it occurs a week after the US Women’s Open and during the Open Championship, so the big name players will not be in attendance. This does not mean that the event is devoid of storylines. For players from smaller countries, this is about possibly qualifying for the Olympics and playing for their country on an International stage.
There are three golf events at the Pan-Am Games – a men’s tournament, a women’s tournament, and a mixed team event. This article will break down the field for both the men and women and the storylines and players to watch for at this event.
The top men in the world will be in St. Andrews during the Pan-Am Games, so several amateurs will be taking up the reigns for their country. The host nation of Canada will be calling upon Austin Connelly, the number 12 ranked amateur in the world that qualified for and made the cut at the Byron Nelson Championship earlier this season. Connelly is a duel citizen of the United States and Canada, but represents Canada when he competes in international events. His partner is Garrett Rank, the next best Canadian amateur.
Players from Brazil, who are automatically qualified for the Olympics for being the host country, will be trying as hard as they can to be the top ranked Brazilian over the next year. That position is currently held by Adilson de Silva, who plays primarily on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, as well as occasional tournaments in Japan, Asia, and Europe. He is currently ranked 306 in the world, twenty positions above Web.com Tour player Lucas Lee, who will not be competing in the Pan-Am.
Chile may have the best one-two combo in the tournament, entering with pros Felipe Aguilar and Mark Tullo. Both players are regulars on the European Tour, with Aguilar notching two victories. Aguilar is ranked 232nd in the world and Tullo, who has struggled this season, is ranked 314th. Both may be fighting jet lag when the Games begin, as both are playing in the Scottish Open this week. Both could withdraw from the Games if they qualify for the Open Championship by finishing in the top 10 in Scotland, but if that does not happen, Chile may be looking to grab two medals in the men’s tournament.
The United States is forced to send amateurs, but they’re not sending scrubs. Beau Hossler, whom many suggest could be a great professional if and when he decides to join the PGA Tour, will be teeing it up, as will University of Georgia golfer Lee McCoy. Both players qualified for the US Open, with Hossler making the cut. Hossler is the sixth ranked amateur in the world, but he may be the best player in this field. McCoy has played in two professional events – this year’s US Open and Travelers Championship, and has yet to decide on his professional future. He lead Georgia to the NCAA semifinals. Both players could walk home with the gold, but Hossler should be considered the favorite.
The host nation of Canada took a big hit in this event when young phenom Brooke Henderson withdrew from the Games. The host nation will rely on 50-year-old veteran Lorie Kane, a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour. She has not won since 2001, but she is far and away the most experienced player in the field.
Professional Mariajo Uribe is playing in the US Women’s Open this week. Once that is over, she will be flying to Canada to compete for her home country Colombia. She is a former UCLA standout that has been playing on the LPGA Tour for six years. She won the unofficial HSBC Brazil Cup in 2011 and has two top 10s in majors, most recently last year’s Evian Championship. She should be considered a medal contender.
Mexico, the home of former world number one Lorena Ochoa, is entering the tournament with two young upstarts - Margarita Ramos and Marijosse Navarro. Navarro is an amateur that plays for Texas A&M, and has played in two LPGA event this season, with a made cut at the North Texas Shootout. She is the 12th ranked amateur in the world. Ramos is currently a professional on Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s feeder tour. Both could have an outside shot at making the podium,
Veronica Felibert of Venezuela was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2012 and played there until she lost her card in 2014. She has been playing on the Symetra Tour this season, but has only broken 70 three times. She has the experience to make her a contender, but she would need to play better than she has all season.
The United States is going young – really young – as both of their female players are under the age of 18. Kristen Gillman, 17, is playing in the US Women’s Open this week, and also played in the Evian Championship last season. She also played in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic this year, but has missed the cut in all three of her professional events. Still, Gillman is one of the best junior golfers in the world. So, too, is Andrea Lee, who made the cut at last years US Women’s Open and this year’s Swinging Skirts. She graduated from high school this year and will be attending the University of Stanford next year. The US team may be the deepest in the women’s field, as both players could be considered medal contenders.
The overwhelming favorite is Paraguay’s Julieta Granada, a professional who has been on the LPGA Tour for nine years. She has one victory on the LPGA Tour and finished in the top 10 in two majors last season. She is 33rd in the Rolex Rankings, which is the highest ranking of anyone in either the men’s or women’s field. She has made the cut in her last seven LPGA events, and is 31st in the current year Race For The CME Globe standings. Anything less than a gold medal for Granada will feel like a defeat for her.