How Does Golf Work at the Olympics? Rules, Format Explained for Tokyo 2020 Games

After being absent from the Olympic Games for over a century, golf makes its second consecutive appearance in the Games at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with Britain's Justin Rose and South Korea's Inbee Park looking to defend the gold they won in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

Sixty of the world's best players will battle it out at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, a par-71 course stretching over 7,447 yards.

The men's tournament began on Thursday, with Austria's Sepp Straka leading the field after the first round with an 8-under 63. The final three rounds will take place over the next three days, while the women's tournament begins on August 4 and runs until August 7.

Here's all you need to know about golf at the Olympics.

Team USA golf
Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, and Collin Morikawa of Team USA play during a practice round at Kasumigaseki Country Club ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 28 in Tokyo, Japan. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

How does golf work at the Olympics?

Golf will have a very familiar look at the Olympics. In fact, both the men's tournament and women's tournament will be almost identical to their PGA Tour and LPGA Tour counterparts, except for the fact there is no cut after the first two rounds, meaning all players in both tournaments will be in action for four days.

As is the case across PGA and LPGA events, both the men's and women's tournaments follow the 72-hole individual stroke play format, which means the player with the lowest score at the end of the four rounds wins. Much like events on the PGA Tour and the majors, the tee times for the final two rounds are determined by the scoreboard, with players going out in reverse order and the leading pair taking to the course last.

If two or more players are tied for a medal position after 72 holes, the tournament will move onto a three-hole playoff. If the deadlock can't be broken after the three-hole playoff, the tournament goes to sudden death.

How big is the field at Tokyo 2020?

The Olympic field is far smaller than PGA and LPGA events during the season, with just 60 players competing in each tournament.

For context, that is the same number of players that make it to the final two rounds of the U.S. Open, which has the second-strictest cut rule of the four majors.

Only the top 50 players plus ties progress to the final two rounds at The Masters, while the top 70 players and ties qualify for the final stages at the PGA Championship and The British Open.

Justin Thomas at the Tokyo Olympics
Patrick Reed at the Tokyo Olympics
Xander Schauffele at the Tokyo Olympics
Collin Morikawa at the Tokyo Olympics
Team USA's quartet in the men's tournament

How do players qualify for the Tokyo Olympics?

The top 15 players in the world are automatically eligible for the Olympics, albeit with a maximum of four players per country. Beyond the top 15, players are eligible based on the world rankings but with a limit of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15 in the world.

Team USA is represented by Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, who won The Open Championship earlier in July, along with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed, who replaced Bryson DeChambeau after the latter tested positive for coronavirus.

Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda will represent the U.S. in the women's tournament.

Have the USA ever won an Olympic medal in golf?

Yes and on multiple occasions. Charles Sands won the inaugural Olympic golf tournament at the Paris Games in 1900, while Chandler Egan won silver in St. Louis four years later with Burt McKinnie and Francis Newton picking up the bronze. When golf returned to the Olympic program five years ago in Rio after a 112-year absence, Matt Kuchar won the bronze medal.

Margaret Abbott, Pauline Whittier and Daria Pratt made it an all-American podium at the 1900 Games and remain the only American women to have won an Olympic golf medal.

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