ATLANTA — As the Olympic rosters for men’s golf were finalized on Tuesday, three top-12 invitees had respectfully sent their regrets. Joining the world No. 2, Dustin Johnson of the United States, who confirmed his decision in March, were the 11th-ranked Tyrrell Hatton of Britain and the 12th-ranked Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who finished second in the past two major tournaments. Oosthuizen said family commitments were partly responsible for his decision to bypass the Games, especially after his recent purchase of an 86-acre horse farm in Ocala, Fla.
For Sophia Popov, family considerations explain an enthusiastic embrace of the chance to pursue a pandemic-delayed Olympic gold medal. Popov, 28, who holds dual American and German citizenship, has secured a spot in the 60-player competition, representing Germany and realizing a dream that, for different reasons, eluded her maternal grandmother, her mother and her older brother.
“The Olympics is a huge deal for me,” Popov, the reigning Women’s British Open champion, said Wednesday.
This year, as in 2016, golf’s shallow roots in the Olympics are being exposed by the men’s limited interest. The women are a different story, fiercely jockeying for spots in the field, which will be finalized after this week’s KPMG Women’s P.G.A. 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 according to the rankings, with a maximum of two players per nation.
Because of the country caps, Popov, the 22nd-ranked player, is set for the Tokyo Games, while Ally Ewing, ranked 18th, is one of several Americans who could, with a victory this week at Atlanta Athletic Club, vault over the fourth U.S. player, Jessica Korda, who is ranked 13th, 10 spots behind her younger sister, Nelly. In between the Korda sisters are the Americans Danielle Kang at No. 6 and Lexi Thompson at No. 7.
“It’s going to take good golf this week, but it would obviously be a huge honor,” said Ewing, 28, who won her second L.P.G.A. tour title last month. “I think one of the coolest things for me, aside from being an Olympian, would just be walking beside other Olympians like Allyson Felix and just people I’ve watched on TV for so many years.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympics will proceed in a severely stripped-down version, with limited crowds, no international fans and restricted movement between venues for athletes and other members of the Olympic contingent.
“I think one of the big things is the experience of the Olympics and what I was able to do won’t be possible for guys this year,” said Rickie Fowler, who competed in the men’s event in 2016, when golf returned to the Games for the first time since 1904. Fowler, speaking Wednesday in a remote news conference from this week’s PGA Tour stop in Connecticut, added, “The Olympics in general are not going to be the same experience.”
The women don’t care. They appreciate what the Olympics can deliver: the opportunity to compete in front of the largest global audience in sports.
“I think it was a great chance for us to actually play on the same golf course as the men and just to show the world how good the ladies golfers are,” said Shanshan Feng, the 2016 bronze medalist from China.
She added: “I think we should do everything that we can to support the game and ladies golf. I wouldn’t be surprised to see maybe most or even all of the ladies that get in go to Tokyo.”
Summer Olympics Essentials
- Olympics Guide: It’s been an unusual lead-up to this year’s Olympics. Here’s what you need to know about the Games.
- Athletes: These are the competitors you’ll be hearing a lot about. Pick a few to cheer for!
- Sports: New sports this year include karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Here’s how every Olympic sport works.
- Schedule: Mark your calendars for your favorite events to watch.
Three weeks after the Olympic men’s golf competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club, roughly 23 miles north of Tokyo, the PGA Tour is scheduled to begin its three-tournament postseason offering a $60 million overall purse. The L.P.G.A.’s total purse for the 2021 season was expected to be $76.5 million.
“Those players can retire when they’re finished with their careers,” said Australia’s Hannah Green, the 2019 Women’s P.G.A. champion, referring to her PGA Tour counterparts. But on the L.P.G.A. circuit, she continued, most of the players will retire to motherhood or some other full-time occupation.
“That perspective is probably changed, playing for money versus for a medal,” said Green, who added that she would exchange her major title for a gold medal.
“I think because it is so rare to get a gold medal — once every four years,” said Green, who added, “I think everyone would notice, not just the golfing world.”
Popov grew up loving the Olympics. Her mother, Claudia Schwarzer Popov, was a standout swimmer at Stanford whose Olympic dreams were sidetracked in 1980 because of the U.S.-led boycott, and again in 1984 because of an elbow injury.
Claudia’s mother, Sabine Schwarzer, qualified for the United Team of Germany in the high jump at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. But because of an injury and a move to the United States to join her fiancé, she did not compete.
Popov’s brother Nicholas, who competed for the University of Arizona, swam in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in the 50-meter freestyle but did not advance out of the preliminaries.
“He was kind of bummed,” said Popov, adding that her brother traveled to London to watch and to cheer for his friends who did qualify.
“The reason I didn’t become a swimmer,” Popov said, “is because of all that heartbreak. My mom was like, ‘I want to teach you guys how to swim, but I wouldn’t be mad if you didn’t become swimmers because it’s a very unrewarding sport.’”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Popov will finally compete in an Olympics, though her family will not travel to Tokyo to share in the experience with her. It’s small consolation, but her mother and brother have joked about getting an Olympic rings tattoo, the must-have status symbol for all qualifiers.
They said they would have “brother” or “mother” written underneath the rings, Popov explained with a laugh. “I was like, you can do whatever you want.”
She said their experiences had added to her motivation. “I have two other people to represent,” she said, “that I feel like could have been there in the past.”
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