By Ian Shogren, Special to USA Golf
The 2016 Olympic Games are more than two years away, but the LPGA is offering a bit of a sneak preview at this week’s International Crown.
The inaugural event, being held at Caves Valley Golf Club outside of Baltimore, features four days of match play among eight countries. Just as with the players who will make the Olympics field in two years, the Rolex Rankings determined which countries and players would partake in the event.
“This is definitely the best preview we have ever had of the Olympics,” American and No. 1 Stacy Lewis said in a recent wire story. “I know we got a long ways to go before Rio, but this is certainly a really good preview to see what we’re going to have in Rio.”
The window to gain points that will determine the field in Rio is now in effect, and the race to make the United States team is bound to be close. Currently, the U.S. has eight golfers in the top 16 of the Rolex Rankings, but only the top four will represent the country.
If the Olympics started today, the United States would be represented by Lewis (1), Lexi Thompson (5), Michelle Wie (6), and Cristie Kerr (10).
Paula Creamer, currently ranked 12th, realizes the challenge that is front of anyone trying to make the team.
“You can’t get too far out of the race for [you] to get in,” Creamer said. “The criteria is pretty tough. You want to be within the mix. You don’t ever want to feel like you need to push a little bit harder and focus too much on it.”
The United States is currently the only country that would place the maximum of four players in the field if the Olympics started today.
HOW IT WORKS
Eight countries divided into two pools will compete in the match-play tournament. The countries that are competing were determined by the cumulative Rolex Rankings of their top four players based on the March 31, 2014 poll. The United States team was seeded first for the tournament and placed in Pool A with Thailand (4), Spain (5), and Chinese Taipei (8). Pool B consists of the Republic of Korea (2), Japan (3), Sweden (6), and Australia (7).
The rosters of the countries were based off of the July 21, 2014, Rolex Rankings with the top four ranked players in each country making the team. In those rankings, the U.S. placed four players in the top 12, the most of any country. The United States team consists of: Stacy Lewis (1), Lexi Thompson (5), Cristie Kerr (10), Paula Creamer (12).
This unique tournament of eight countries competing brings a new format to golf, breaking away from the traditional 72-hole stroke play event.
Each team will face the other three countries in their pool over three days of best-ball matches. Points are awarded based on the result of each best-ball match, with two points for a win and one point for halves. The top-two finishers in each pool automatically advance to the final round on Sunday, with the third-place finisher in each pool competing in a two-player, hole-by-hole sudden death playoff Saturday night to determine the fifth team to advance to the final round.
For the final round on Sunday, the four players on each of the five countries will compete against each other in singles matches for additional points. The five countries will be reseeded based on their total points from pool play. The four players on one team will compete against a player from a different country.
The champion will be crowned based on the most points that are accumulated over four days. If there is a tie atop the leaderboard after the singles matches, a hole-by-hole playoff with one player from each country will take place.