We all know that golf will make its return to the Olympics in 2016 — but what would the field have looked like if golf were a go in London?
Thankfully, Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union has done the heavy lifting and figured out the hypothetical 60-player fields for both the men and the women.
Eligibility: The top 15 in the official world golf rankings for men and women qualify (with no more than four players per country). After that, each country gets no more than two of the next highest-ranked players. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will compete as Great Britain. Players from Northern Ireland will have the option of playing for Ireland.
Format: The men and women will play 72 holes of stroke play. Playoffs will be held to break ties for medals.
While this means several top players from the strongest countries will be missing — big names like Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson would have been absent this year — it also means that lower ranked players from countries never mistaken for golf powerhouses will get nods. In 2012, this wrinkle would have been particularly important to China, whose best male player, Liang Wenchong, just barely made the cut, grabbing the 60th and final spot. Liang, who was ranked as high as 57th in the world in 2010, was No. 387 when Smits made his tabulations in early July, and he has since dropped to No. 425. (China’s next player in the world rankings is Wu Ashun at 706th.)
On the men’s side of this would-be Olympic field, 12 of the 60 golfers hail from Asia. That number, somewhat surprisingly, is not much higher on the women’s side of the game, with Asia accounting for 14 of the 60 golfers. But this time China’s two entrants are locks: 2012 LPGA Championship winner Feng Shanshan is ranked No. 4 in the world and Ye Liying is No. 97.
So there’s your answer to the question posed in the headline: China would have sent three golfers to the London Games.* It will be interesting to see what that number turns out to be in 2016. A lot can happen in four years — especially in China — but is it enough time for Chinese golfers to climb the world rankings?
* NOTE: There’s some debate over the accuracy of the players lists published in The Florida Times-Union. The confusion mostly hinges upon whether there will be a four-player cap per country. If there is not, then Ryan Ballengee’s lists over at Golf News Net are the ones to go by. Here’s his take on the men’s and women’s fields. This way of calculating the field knocks Liang Wenchong out of the fake 2012 Olympics.