World’s top-ranked golfer cites travel demands and busy summer schedule as reasons to opt out of competition at Tokyo Games
“It's right in the middle of a big stretch of golf for me, so that was the reason I was kind of waffling on it a little bit,” Johnson said Saturday at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “It's a long way to travel, and I think the WGC [World Golf Championships-Fed Ex St. Jude Invitational] is the week right after it. The British [Open] is a couple weeks before.
“It's a lot of traveling at a time where it's important to feel like I'm focused playing on the PGA Tour.”
Olympic men’s golf is scheduled for July 29-Aug. 1 at Kasumigaseki Country Club near Tokyo. The tournament will start 11 days after the British Open ends at Royal St. George’s in England, and the games will end 18 days before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin at Liberty National in New Jersey. The WGC event in Memphis, Tenn., is scheduled for Aug. 5-8.
In 2016, Johnson skipped golf’s return to the games in Rio de Janeiro after a 112-year absence, citing concerns about the zika virus. He wasn’t the only player to bypass the Rio Games because of concerns about the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to severe birth defects. Australia’s Jason Day, South Africans Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy and Fiji’s Vijay Singh were among prominent players worldwide who opted not to go.
Justin Rose of Great Britain won the gold medal, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson took the silver and American Matt Kuchar claimed the bronze.
As part of golf's winning bid to return to the Olympics beginning with the 2016 Rio Games, the major professional men's and women's tours agreed to adjust their schedules for the quadrennial games. The initiative was a key component to the grow-the-game mantra that was being spread worldwide. Left unknown was whether the game's biggest stars would adjust their schedules and catch the Olympic spirit.
Before the 2020 Olympics were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson had confirmed to Golfweek that he would not compete in the Tokyo Games, citing “the newly compressed schedule.” This time, looking toward the 2021 Games, Johnson opted for brutal honesty: he simply doesn’t want to go.
Johnson, the reigning Masters and FedEx Cup champions and No. 1-ranked player in the world, pointed to the travel demands amid a hectic summer schedule. He typically plays 20 or more tournaments, in the U.S. and as many as five other countries. The COVID-19 pandemic likely will pare some of that travel – he won’t have to trek to Canada for the canceled Canadian Open, which is underwritten by RBC, one of Johnson’s sponsors, for example – but he still has shown an eagerness to hop onto his private jet and head overseas, provided that the price is right.
Earlier this year, for example, Johnson competed in the European Tour’s Saudi International, which he won, instead of staying closer to home for the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open. A reported $2 million appearance fee from the Saudis likely helped cushion the travel demands to the Arabian Peninsula.
Johnson, 36, has won 24 times on the PGA Tour, including two major championships. The U.S. likely will have four players eligible to compete in the Tokyo Games. The Olympics admits only two players per country, but any nation with four players among the top 15 of the world upon the end of the U.S. Open on June 20 would qualify. As of Sunday night, 11 Americans ranked among the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
With Johnson out, the top four Americans eligible for the Olympics would be Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau, according to the Olympic golf rankings.
Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.