Teeing off: Tokyo 2020’s Olympic golf hopefuls

Discover the early favourites, the in-form players and the reigning champions in our guide to Tokyo 2020’s Olympic golf hopefuls.

Golf swung back on to the Olympic scene at the Rio 2016 Games. Sharp shots and tantalising clashes defined the tournament, with Inbee Park of South Korea winning the women’s individual event and Great Britain’s Justin Rose triumphing in the men’s. But will they taste success in Tokyo? Here’s our guide to the Olympic golf hopefuls who will be gunning for glory in 2020.

Eventual gold medallist Inbee Park of South Korea during Rio 2016
Eventual gold medallist Inbee Park of South Korea during Rio 2016Eventual gold medallist Inbee Park of South Korea during Rio 2016

Inbee Park, South Korea

The reigning women’s Olympic champion

Inbee Park became the first golfer to capture an Olympic gold medal in 112 years – and the first female golfer in 116 – when she won the women’s individual tournament at Rio 2016, cementing her legacy as a golfing great.

However, that was to be her only tournament win in what turned out to be a frustrating year for the South Korean. One title in 2016 was well below par for a player with seven LPGA majors to her name.

Park endured a similarly disappointing run the following season in 2017, when she was side-lined for most of the year with a back injury. Even so, she still managed to capture a title.

True to her reputation as one of the game’s most consistent performers, Park worked her way back up to the top of the rankings in April 2018, getting back into her stride in the lead-up to Tokyo.

Shanshan Feng, China

The history-maker

After winning China’s first ever medal in Olympic golf – taking home the bronze in Rio – Shanshan Feng became a sporting hero in her home nation. Across the globe, her podium finish bolstered her reputation as one of the world’s finest golfers.

Feng’s rise to the top began in 2012, when she won the LPGA Championship. This was a landmark achievement, as she became the first Chinese golfer to win a major championship. Five years later, in November 2017, she took her place at the top of the world rankings.

Feng has already outlined her intentions for Tokyo 2020, determined to build on her third-place finish – and few would bet against her continuing her relentless drive for success in the women’s game.

Lydia Ko, New Zealand

The close runner in Rio

Despite coming so close to success at Rio 2016 – sent into silver medal position by an inspired Inbee Park – Lydia Ko had an unbelievable year. Winning four LPGA Tour events, including the ANA Inspiration major, she boasted a competition haul few golfers could compete with.

Ko is used to making big career statements. As the youngest-ever golfer to be ranked world number one – when she was aged just 17 years and nine months old – she has the pedigree to go one step further in Tokyo and avenge her narrow defeat to Park.

Her performances have dipped a little in 2018, dropping down to a ranking of 17th at one point. However, there’s still time for the Ko – the youngest woman to win a major golfing championship – to turn things around in time for 2020.

Hole-in-one for New Zealand's Ko

Hole-in-one for New Zealand's Ko

Sung Hyun Park, South Korea

The rising star

As the victor in the 2018 Women’s PGA Championship, Sung Hyun Park made quite the impact on the LPGA Tour. It’s the big break she’s been working up to by quietly accumulating competition wins on the LPGA of Korea Tour circuit.

Amassing five LPGA Tour wins across 2017 and 2018 – and rising to be the top-ranked rookie in the process – Park has to be considered one of the favourites for gold in Tokyo. Her powerful swing has propelled her to the top tier of elite players in the game and boosted her profile outside the sport, too.

Although she didn’t participate last time around, the LPGA Rookie and Player of the Year for 2017 will surely be a force to be reckoned with at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Sung Hyun Park during the UL International Crown competition, hosted by her home nation, South Korea. 
Sung Hyun Park during the UL International Crown competition, hosted by her home nation, South Korea. Sung Hyun Park during the UL International Crown competition, hosted by her home nation, South Korea. 

Ariya Jutanugarn, Thailand

The in-form player

In 2016, Ariya Jutanugarn was critically acclaimed as one of the world’s best players, after racking up five LPGA tour wins. In Rio, she continued her blistering play by leading the first round by one shot – an impressive six-under par.

However, she came crashing down in the second round, ultimately retiring from the competition with a knee injury – a bitter disappointment after a lightning start.

Jutanugarn bounced back from this setback by racking up a further two major LPGA tournament wins. She crowned this successful streak with her biggest accomplishment yet, the 2018 US Women’s Open Championship, becoming the first golfer from Thailand to win a major.

Can she capitalise on this success and lay the ghost of Rio 2016 to rest at Tokyo 2020?

Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn hits a tee shot UL International Crown in Incheon, South Korea
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn hits a tee shot UL International Crown in Incheon, South KoreaThailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn hits a tee shot UL International Crown in Incheon, South Korea

Justin Rose, Great Britain

The reigning men’s gold medallist

After a last-gasp victory on the final hole at Rio 2016, Justin Rose made history by becoming the first men’s Olympic golf champion since Canada’s George Lyon, back in 1904.

As the defending Olympic champion, huge things are expected of Rose this time around. His résumé proudly lists nine PGA Tour wins, first place at the 2013 US Open and a number-one ranking in 2018, giving him the pedigree needed to clinch another Olympic gold.

Regardless of his performance in Tokyo, his place in Olympic golfing history is guaranteed. But, being the competitor he his, Rose will be fighting tooth and nail to make further history by tasting gold once again in 2020.

Justin Rose of Great Britain celebrates his gold medal-winning putt at the Rio Olympic Games. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Justin Rose of Great Britain celebrates his gold medal-winning putt at the Rio Olympic Games. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)Justin Rose of Great Britain celebrates his gold medal-winning putt at the Rio Olympic Games. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Matt Kuchar, USA

The comeback kid

Matt Kuchar’s credentials for success in Tokyo lie in the fact that he was very much considered the comeback kid at the turn of the noughties. After early professional successes, his career took a nosedive during the mid-2000s, almost dropping off the PGA tour entirely.

However, like the proverbial phoenix from the flames, Kuchar rose again, reinventing his game, winning selection for the Ryder Cup in 2010 and taking home the Players Championship title in 2012.

His bronze medal at Rio 2016 further enhanced his global reputation, and a close-run second in the 2017 Open Championship suggests he’s got the talent to claim gold at Tokyo 2020.

Men's Golf Highlights | Rio 2016

Men's Golf Highlights | Rio 2016

Henrik Stenson, Sweden

The nearly man of Rio

After coming desperately close to clinching an Olympic gold at Rio 2016, Henrik Stenson’s silver medal achievement was tainted with a lingering taste of disappointment.

Going into that Olympic tournament, his stock and confidence were sky-high, having won the 2016 Open Championship. But the top podium spot was just out of reach.

Stenson struggled in early 2018 with a niggling elbow injury, which many believed would hamper his chances of competing at that year's Ryder Cup. The critics need not have worried. Stenson produced a stunning display to finish the event unbeaten and untied, winning all his matches. If he replicates this form in Tokyo, he could go one better than last time around.

Dustin Johnson, USA

The legend in the making

One of the most feared players on the PGA Tour today, Dustin Johnson has risen to the rank of number one in the world, thanks to his impressive collection of 19 PGA Tour wins.

Fast becoming a modern-great in the mould of Jack Niklaus and Tiger Woods, Johnson has achieved a feat only those two legends have managed – winning a title in each of their first 11 seasons.

His biggest triumphs occurred in 2016, capturing the US Open Championship and being named the PGA Player of the Year. He withdrew from competing at Rio that year because of concerns about the Zika virus, so there’s great anticipation that he might make his Olympic debut in Tokyo. The golfing world awaits his next move.

Dustin Johnson during the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris
Dustin Johnson during the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in ParisDustin Johnson during the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris

Brooks Koepka, USA

The man of the moment

Quite simply, Brooks Koepka is one of golf’s biggest stars of 2018. Winning both the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year – the first player to do so since Tiger Woods in 2000 – he rightly earned his title as the PGA Player of the Year 2018.

An athletic, dynamic player, Koepka’s blistering form led him to beat other illustrious names on this list, such as Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose – this, despite suffering from injuries during the 2017-18 season.

Whether he can sustain his recent success remains to be seen, but his performances of late show a level of confidence that he could be on the Olympic podium in 2020.

Watch the finest golfing action as the world’s greatest players tee off on the Olympic Channel.

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