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Golf Returns to the Olympics: What to expect in 2016

There’s little to see for golf fans at this year’s Olympics, but the next one–slated to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–promises a whole new spectacle. It’s the year that golf will become an Olympic sport after more than a hundred years off the scene (it has only made two previous appearances, in 1900 and in 1904). So what’s there to look out for when the 2016 Games roll around?

Full details have yet to come out, but according to official statements, the field will consist of 60 men and 60 women, with the World Golf Rankings serving as the starting point. Countries can send a maximum of two contestants (four if there are multiple players in the top 15), which helps keep some countries being over represented. This means that even golfers that have a long way to go, such as those in the lower 100s, have a decent chance of making it to Rio.

Of course, it can’t be denied that the strong golf countries will be the most interesting to watch. The UK has five athletes in the top 11, which may mean a cutthroat fight between the country’s biggest golfers. The US has four top-ranking players, but top-20 players such as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have plenty of time to up their game and become contenders. South Africa is also a strong nation and one to watch. Spain and Scandinavia (mostly Denmark and Sweden) also have a considerable presence in the top 50 and are certainly not out of the running.

Not much is known about the qualifying rounds yet, but the date is strongly believed to be some time after that year’s British Open. Therefore, one thing fans can safely expect is that the season’s first three majors will determine the 2016 Olympic teams to a significant extent.

The game format recommended by the International Golf Federation (which also led the bid to reinstate the sport) is 72 holes, individual strokes, similar to most major championships. Three-hole playoffs will be used to break ties for first to third place.

In the meantime, golfers and golf fans have four full seasons of the sport to watch, leaving plenty of time for the rankings to move around. The sport will also remain in the Olympics until 2020, so followers can expect more competitive games, a boost in popularity, and perhaps most interestingly, a surge of talent from countries outside Europe and North America.

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