100 days away: Women hopeful to represent countries in Paris Olympics

100 days away: Women hopeful to represent countries in Paris Olympics
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Imagine the scene: Lydia Ko standing on the podium, draped in the New Zealand flag, receiving a gold medal.

It would complete her collection – a phenomenal accomplishment for a former teen phenom – and could also grant her entrance into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

We are 100 days away from the Olympic Games in Paris, where 60 men and 60 women will compete in the golf competition at Le Golf National, host of the 2018 Ryder Cup.

The men’s event is Aug. 1-4, a couple of weeks after the final major of the year and a week before the final regular-season Tour event. The women play Aug. 7-10, with still 12 official events (including one major) on the calendar.

Does it mean more to one than the other? Perhaps not on an individual level, but on the whole, the women make it clear: this is not an obligation; it’s an opportunity.

“I think Paris is going to be great,” Ko said a few weeks ago in Arizona. “We play in Europe between July to August anyway, so I think it’s just going to be a great stretch for us.”

Ko is a lock to qualify for her third Games and will likely be the lone female Kiwi golfer to compete. She won silver in Rio in 2016 and bonze in 2021 in Japan.

That goes along with her 20 LPGA Tour wins, including two major titles. With her victory earlier this year in Orlando, Ko is 1 point shy of qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame. She can get there with another tour win – or a gold medal.

Of course, she’d love to secure professional immortality as soon as Sunday, but there is some romanticism in accomplishing it all in Paris.

This week is the Chevron Championship, the women’s first major of the season. Nelly Korda enters having won each of her last four starts on tour and is looking to become just the third player to win five in a row.

Korda is also the reigning Olympic gold medalist, having prevailed at Kasumigaseki Country Club by a stroke over Ko and Japan’s Moni Inami, who beat Ko in a playoff for silver.

“Getting to represent red, white, and blue has always been a huge honor,” Korda said. “Every time I’ve done it I’ve been super proud of doing it.”

Thanks to her dominating start to the season, Korda has all but secured her spot in the limited field.

KAWAGOE, JAPAN – AUGUST 07: Nelly Korda of Team United States celebrates with the gold medal at the victory ceremony after the final round of the Women’s Individual Stroke Play on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Kasumigaseki Country Club on August 07, 2021 in Kawagoe, Japan. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Only 60 players can compete (and this relates to both men and women). The Olympic standings reflect the men’s Official World Golf Ranking and the women’s Rolex Rankings. Up to four players can represent a country if they are inside the top 15. Outside of that, up to two players can represent a country. The men’s cutoff is June 17, with the final qualifying event the U.S. Open; the women’s is June 24, following the KPMG Women’s PGA.

There are currently four Americans in the top 15: Korda, Lilia Vu, Megan Khang and Alison Lee. The latter two, however, are ranked 13th and 14th, respectively.

Lee has played her way into contention thanks to a trio of runner-up finishes on the LPGA to end last season, along with a win on the Ladies European Tour. She’s been hit-or-miss in 2024 with two top-10s and two finishes outside the top 50.

Still, she’s inside the cut line. And she’s well aware of her precarious position.

“You know, at the end of last year, I didn’t think I even had a chance to make Olympics. I was first alternate basically,” Lee said.

“So, to end a season like that and to see that I had potential to maybe make the Olympics, I mean, that would be a huge dream come true. I can’t lie, I’ve been checking that website every Monday morning [for updated standings].”

The men are not immune to such anticipation; you just get more of that unfettered feeling, from top to bottom, with the women.

One of the great things both sides present is the chance to introduce unfamiliar names to even a knowing fan base. There are currently 32 different countries represented among both the men and female qualifiers.

Golf - Olympics: Day 14

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 19: Aditi Ashok of India watches her tee shot on the first hole during the third round of the Women’s Individual Stroke Play golf on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Olympic Golf Course on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

In 2016, the golf world met India’s Aditi Ashok, an 18-year-old who was in contention through two rounds in Rio. She then finished fourth in her ’21 return.

Ashok is one of two Indian players (Diksha Dagar) who are currently among the qualifying positions. There are also two Spaniards, with Azahara Munoz No. 2, behind Carlota Cignada.

Munoz is a new mom and 36 years old. She competed in the first two editions since golf was re-added after a 112-year absence, and she’s not taking a third opportunity lightly.

“Yeah, a lot, because you never know when your last ones are going to be,” Munoz said when asked if she was targeting the Olympics. “These are probably going to be my last ones, pretty certain, so I definitely want to be there. It’s in Paris, so it’s close to home and my parents are probably going to be able to come.”

Could this be the last Olympics for Ko as well? She’s only 26 but she’s also said professional golf is an uncertainty after 30.

With all she’s accomplished – and all the more she still can, like HOF status and an Olympic medal sweep – who knows when her next chapter might begin.

So, for now, she’s focused on the present (and the near future).

“It’s pretty important for me,” Ko said of the Paris Games.

“I’m not really sure if I’m going to be playing in like five-plus years, so this could potentially be my last Olympics. I’m just – I want to enjoy this last one potentially.”

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