Dustin Johnson Comes Under Fire

Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, has found himself in the middle of a bit of a media storm this week as a result of saying he has no intention of representing the USA golf team at the 2021 Olympics scheduled in Japan in July due to more important schedule commitments.

HARTFORD, Conn. – Reigning Masters and Travelers Championship titlist Dustin Johnson has officially decided to bypass the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

The decision by Johnson, the world’s No. 1 ranked player, wasn’t surprising given he said last March that he would not have played the Olympics had they been held in 2020. But in more recent comments, including two weeks ago, Johnson said he had not decided yet on the Tokyo Games.

But his announcement during The Players Championship last week in Ponte Vedra, Fla., opened a spot for another American compete in the prestigious event, won by Englishman Justin Rose in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, when golf returned to the Olympics after a 112-year absence.

“I really didn’t think much about it,” Johnson said Saturday after being told about a Golf Channel report that he wasn’t going to Japan. “I actually didn’t really ever decide whether I was going to play or not, I just didn’t sign up. But 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. It’s a long way to travel.”

Last year, Johnson said he wasn’t going to play because he was prioritizing the FedExCup playoffs, which were to start two weeks after the Olympics. This year, the playoffs begin three weeks after the Games, which start July 29 for the men at Kasumigaseki Country Club in suburban Tokyo. A World Golf Championships event, the St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tenn., has been inserted the week after the Olympics. The British Open at Royal St. George’s in England starts 11 days before the Games, and two weeks after the Games, the first of three consecutive playoff events begin, capped by the Tour Championship on Sept. 2-5 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. And three weeks later, the Ryder Cup is Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisc.

Justin Rose, of Great Britain, clinched golf’s gold medal ahead of Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but almost of the game’s biggest names have not commited to playing in Tokyo in the 2021 Olympics this summer.

“If there was a little more time, especially if you weren’t trying to fly right from Tokyo to Memphis and play WGC, yeah, I obviously definitely would have thought about it a lot more,” Johnson said. “If there was a little more space between there for sure.”

Johnson, the first high-profile golfer to publicly withdraw from Olympic consideration who tied for 48th in The Players, is now a FedEx Cup champion, winning the $15 million first prize and crossing off that career goal in 2020, which was truncated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also qualified for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

Countries can have as many as four players in the Olympics, provided they are among the Top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking on June 21, the day after the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif. No. 2 Justin Thomas, who won The Players Championship on Sunday, No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau and No. 4 Collin Morikawa are second, third and fourth in the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings. DeChambeau moved back into the top four when he tied for third in The Players, knocking out Xander Schauffele, who now most benefits from Johnson bowing out.

Rio Olympian Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson and Brooks Koepka are also in the mix. Simpson said last week that he has not decided whether he will go to the Olympics if he qualifies, but that “it would be hard to put that much effort into going to Japan.”

“It would really shoot me in the foot for the Playoffs, and right now in my career, Playoffs are more important to me than the Olympics,” Simpson said.

Barring a miracle, Tiger Woods also won’t be competing in the Olympics after sustaining severe leg injuries in a single-car accident in Los Angeles on Feb. 23. But the 82-time PGA Tour winner wrote on social media that he had been released from hospital care in California and was back at his home in Jupiter, Fla. He used the opportunity to thank those helping him through the process of healing from the comminuted open fractures in both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula and extensive damage to his ankle, suffered when his vehicle rolled over.

“Happy to report that I am back home and continuing my recovery,” Woods said in his statement. “I am so grateful for the outpouring of support and encouragement that I have received over the past few weeks. Thank you to the incredible surgeons, doctors, nurses and staff at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. You have all taken such great care of me and I cannot thank you enough.”

Woods gave no update on the progress of his recovery other than to say, “I will be recovering at home and working on getting stronger every day.”

Johnson will defend his Masters title starting April 8 at Augusta National GC in Augusta, Ga., and attempt to join Phil Mickelson as the only repeat winner of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 24-27. DeChambeau, who was the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., in September and the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 7, and Reed have also committed to the Travelers Championship.

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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