Team Canada

Coaches think Rio Olympic course sets up well for Canadian team

Derek Ingram - Team Canada Men's Head Coach (Golf Canada Archives)

GOODWOOD, Ont. – It’s an assignment unlike any other for Canadian golf coaches Derek Ingram and Tristan Mullally.

They’re tasked with getting the Canadian Olympic golf team – two women and two men – ready to play a unique course in Rio at an event which will be much different than the usual PGA and LPGA Tour stops.

Unlike most tournaments where players are thinking about overall results, the money list and ranking position, the only thing that really matters at the Games is whether you’re in first, second or third. The podium-or-bust mindset should make for some aggressive shotmaking and a wild four rounds of stroke play.

Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp are virtual locks for the women’s team. The men are in a tight race with David Hearn, Graham DeLaet, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor and Brad Fritsch in the mix for two spots.

Golf Canada expects to formally unveil its team nominations in mid-July. The Summer Olympics begin Aug. 5.

Ingram and Mullally visited the Olympic Golf Course in Rio’s Barra da Tijuca district last March and came away impressed.

“More like a British Open I would say in terms of the wind and the style of shot that you’re going to have to play,” Mullally said at an availability Monday at Goodwood Golf Club. “But then it’s in the Brazilian heat, so it’s going to be different.”

The coaches say the Olympic course has wide fairways but plenty of hazards, shrubs and steep bunkers. High winds are expected to make things even more challenging.

Mullally – who will coach Henderson and Sharp – thinks the course plays nicely into the Canadians’ strengths.

“It’s a golf course that if it gets windy, can play very long and both of those players bomb it,” Mullally said. “So I think that’s certainly an advantage for them and they’re both good around the greens.

“They have the skills, so it’s a matter of whether they can bring them on the day.”

Henderson, from Smiths Falls, Ont., has risen to No. 4 in the world rankings and will be one of Canada’s best bets for a podium appearance.

“She’s such a good player that the top-10’s are not a given, but she’s capable of doing that when she’s not even playing at her best,” Mullally said. “So when things are firing on all cylinders, a medal and hopefully a gold is certainly on our mind for sure.”

Sharp, meanwhile, has strengthened her ability to play in windy conditions over the last year. Couple that with her impressive length off the tee, and the veteran from Hamilton could also be in the mix.

The Canadian team is planning a pre-tournament camp in Houston shortly before heading to Rio.

Hearn, from Brantford, Ont., and DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., are good bets to make the men’s squad.

However, DeLaet withdrew from the Memorial last week to work on his short game. It’s unclear how long he might be out of action.

Meanwhile, Hadwin, from Abbotsford, B.C., started the final round one shot off the lead and finished tied for 11th place. A hot run over the next month could be the difference for the Olympic team selection.

Both the men’s and women’s competitions will have 60-player fields in Rio. The top 15 players in the world rankings will be eligible with a limit of four players per country.

“Honestly it’s not quite as strong as a major or a PGA Tour event because of the quantity of players,” said Ingram, who will coach the Canadian men. “So I think that gives our guys, because they’re good, solid players, an even better chance to potentially medal or have a great finish.”

The men’s tournament is scheduled for Aug. 11-14. The women will play from Aug. 17-20.

Given the reward, players may push for that birdie or eagle more than at a normal tournament. Or they could go for the steady approach and hope that others go for it and get burned.

“I think the turtle is definitely going to win the race because a lot of people will go out of the gate very hot, try that, and think that’s the way to go,” Mullally said.

With no need to worry about pressing to get a top-10 or top-20 result like they might on tour, the players will be dialled in on a top-three finish. That could provide some top-shelf dramatics in the final round.

“If you’re in 30th or 40th position, there’s not a whole lot of point in holding on to that score and playing it safe,” Mullally said. “You probably have to go for it. It’s almost all or nothing at that point.”