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US Open overshadowed by Olympic withdrawals as world No 1 Dustin Johnson drops out

The sub-plot for the final round of the 121st US Open is supposed to be the fact it’s the deadline for qualification for the men’s golf competition at the Tokyo Olympics. 

In reality, the bigger one is who will actually go to Japan, even if they do meet the criteria to represent their respective nations.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson has declared that he’s not interested, and there are expected to be further withdrawals for the Americans, who are allowed four representatives so long as they are all in the world’s top 15. Austria will be without their best player, Bernd Wiesberger, as will Australia in Adam Scott.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson has declared that he is not interested in playing at the Olympics

Only two of Tyrrell Hatton (pictured), Matt Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey can make it to Tokyo

Perhaps the most intriguing conundrum of all is what’s happening with the two-man Team GB, with Lee Westwood having announced already that he wants to concentrate on making Europe’s Ryder Cup team in September.

On the face of it, that leaves an exciting three-man battle for the places between world number nine Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick (19) and Paul Casey (20). 

One shot either way could make the difference for the latter pair, so close are the margins between them in the world rankings. But don’t be surprised if Tommy Fleetwood ends up as a surprise nomination with Casey.

Officially, Hatton and Fitzpatrick are waiting to see how the final qualification pans out before making their minds up tomorrow, but the fact there has been no unequivocal declaration is surely indicative of the distinct reservations felt by both twentysomethings. It’s a vivid contrast with the enthusiasm shown by Fleetwood and Casey.

Before anyone gives them a hard time, it should be said that it’s hardly surprising if Hatton and Fitzpatrick harbour serious doubts, given the ludicrous schedule put in front of them in the face of the pandemic.

As if the Scottish Open and the Open before the Olympics was not enough, the pair would then travel to Japan and return to play in five events in America offering oodles of Ryder Cup and world ranking points — something not on offer in Tokyo.

Both would then come back to play in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September, where Hatton is defending, before hoping to go back to the US once more for the Ryder Cup.

While Casey and Fleetwood appear certainties for the biennial dust-up in Wisconsin, Fitzpatrick clearly can’t afford to expend all his energy in Japan. At 43, this is probably Casey’s last chance to play in the Olympics.

The other problem is it clearly will be no fun at all for the golfers who make the long trip. Given all that, no wonder the Fitzpatrick and Hatton camps are keeping their cards close to their chest. But don’t be surprised if both players respectfully decline.

Hatton and Fitzpatrick (pictured) are unsure about playing in Japan due to their schedule

Georgia Hall will need to play well at the LPGA Championship to move into Olympic contention

Of course, if there are considerable numbers of withdrawals, it will raise the age-old debate of whether golf should be in the Olympics at all. 

The saving grace will prove the Masters victory for the Japanese icon, Hideki Matsuyama, who will surely be carrying the home flag at the opening ceremony following his historic success. His presence will mean nobody in the host nation will be worrying about the absentees.

Should this be enough for golf to remain an Olympic sport? Given all the difficulties presented by this edition, and the fact it will be one of the most popular sports at the Tokyo Games, it’s hard to imagine any change in status.

As for the women’s competition, there will understandably be a greater representation than the men, given that so many of the top players hail from Asia.

That qualifying competition has another week to run, with the Koreans looking like having to leave out players ranked in the world’s top 15 (no nation is allowed more than four representatives). Regarding Team GB, Mel Reid is keen to go, with Charley Hull and Georgia Hall thought to be of similar mind.

This week’s LPGA Championship, which is a major, is the final event, with Hall needing a good week to move out of the first alternate position.

 Open decides on daily fan numbers for Kent course

The Open will admit up to 32,000 spectators each competition day at this year’s championship, organisers have announced.

There had been uncertainty over the capacity for next month’s event, starting on July 11 at Royal St George’s in Kent, after the government announced that existing Covid-19 restrictions would remain in place until July 19.

The tournament, which is returning after being cancelled in 2020, ends on July 18.

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