SPORTS

Getting players in 2016 Olympic golf field a potential challenge for Canada

07/30/2012 06:47 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT
There are still four years to go before golf makes its return to the Olympics, but leading officials in Canada have already started talking about the importance of defending the gold medal won by George S. Lyon in 1904.

It will be much easier said than done. Simply getting a player (or two) in the 60-man field is far from guaranteed.

Based on the current world rankings, Canadians David Hearn and Graham DeLaet would each be among the last male entrants if the field for the Rio de Janeiro Games was finalized today.

Fortunately, the qualification deadline isn't expected to pass until after the British Open in July 2016 — not long before the opening ceremony in Brazil. In the meantime, Golf Canada expects to see more players representing the Maple Leaf making their presence felt on the world stage.

"In four years time, we would certainly expect to have a deeper field of players than we have now," Jeff Thompson, Golf Canada's chief sport development officer, said Monday in an interview.

Hearn is currently the top-ranked Canadian in the world at No. 213, slightly ahead of DeLaet at No. 237.

The maximum number of golfers any given country will be able to send to the 2016 Games is four. However, that limit only applies to nations with at least that many players inside the top 15 in the world rankings (currently only the U.S. and Great Britain). Everyone else will be capped at two entrants apiece.

It wasn't so long ago that both Mike Weir and Stephen Ames were mainstays inside the top 50, but while those two veterans started struggling in recent years, the next generation of Canadian players has yet to rise up and replace them.

There's reason to believe it might not be too far off. At age 33, Hearn is currently having his most consistent year on the PGA Tour while DeLaet has made a successful return from major back surgery.

Both men are eager to represent Canada at the 2016 Olympics.

"I think anyone who is playing on tour from Canada would be thinking about it right now," Hearn said Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open. "It would be very exciting. I was watching the opening ceremonies (in London) the other night and it would be amazing to represent Canada in an event like that."

Added DeLaet: "It's something that I would treasure forever I'm sure."

Even though the 2016 Games seem far off, it's important for Canadian players to start climbing the world rankings soon. A higher position opens the door to big events like the majors and world golf championships and makes a spot among the elite more attainable.

Golf is a true world sport as evidenced by the fact 28 Olympic nations currently have players ranked higher than Hearn, including Belgium, Denmark, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Bangladesh and Paraguay.

The International Olympic Committee's decision to reinstate golf on its roster back in 2009 also gave countries even more reason to invest in the sport. The ripple effect of that move will likely be seen in the years to come.

"I think it's going to really impact some of the developing countries," Thompson said.

There's hope the benefits will be felt closer to home as well. Golf Canada would like to start receiving similar funding to the other national sport organizations and can help achieve that goal by getting results in major competitions like the Olympics.

The organization is certainly looking to send players to Brazil that are capable of winning gold like Lyon.

The native of Richmond, Ont., came out on top at the 1904 Games in St. Louis and the trophy he received for that victory is now in the possession of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. It was on display throughout the Canadian Open week at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.

PGA Tour players are already getting anxious for golf's return to the Olympic stage.

"We all kind of think it's about time," DeLaet said. "I don't understand why it's been out of the rotation for more than 100 years. It's definitely nice to see it back.

"Hopefully I can be on the team."

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