After qualifying for Olympics, golfers are snubbed. The explanation is baffling

Joost luiten olympics

Joost Luiten is among the Dutch golfers who will not be competing at the Olympics next month.

Getty Images

It may not seem possible that the 148th-ranked pole vaulter in the world could miraculously summon what’s needed to be the best vaulter on the planet during a given week. Or that the 302nd-ranked female hurdler could suddenly become one of the 10 best at clearing barriers at a full sprint. The farther down the rankings you go, there seem to be obvious physical limitations. 

The Olympics, as an entity, knows that. But it still sets up literal standards for each track and field competition that, if matched during an official World Athletics competition, earn athletes a trip to the Olympics. The dream is perpetually alive. And when you see the 242nd-ranked discuss thrower routinely coming up 12 meters short, you understand why these qualification marks are set.

But golf is different. The Olympics knows that, too. 

Golf is different on every course in every country on any day all over the globe. Over four days, one of the 30 best golfers in the world tends to win. But sometimes — quite often, really — they scrape and claw to be just one stroke better than a player you weren’t expecting would contend. 

Which makes it such a shame that the Netherlands Olympic Committee misunderstands that. Thanks to an initial report from Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, it has become clear that only one Dutch golfer will represent the country in the Paris Olympics — Anne van Dam — eve though four qualified. Joost Luiten (ranked 148th), Darius van Driel (242nd) and Dewi Weber (302nd) were all informed that, despite meeting the marks set by the International Olympic Committee, their own national committee is declining to send them to France as representatives of the Dutch Olympic team.

Since golf rejoined the Olympics in 2016, the National Olympic Committee of the Netherlands Sports Federation has — unlike other NOCs — blanketed its approach with an extra set of qualifying rules. Being the best golfer from the Netherlands is not enough — you have to either be ranked in the top 100 in the world, or prove it by earning a high finish in a sanctioned tournament in the run up to the Games. Without that, the Netherlands Olympic Committee believes a player doesn’t display a realistic chance of finishing in the top 8 and contending for a medal. Van Dam was the only one of the four Dutch qualifiers to make that happen, when she finished second late last season on the Ladies European Tour.

Understandably, the players are upset. Weber aired her grievances to Golf Digest, while Luiten sounded off on social media (below) and van Driel to, calling the snub “political,” from a director who doesn’t understand golf. The Royal Dutch Golf Federation tried taking action, even meeting with the NOC earlier this month, presenting figures about what makes golf competitions different from other sports and offering to pay for the costs of the trip. But the federation’s bid, with Luiten campaigning in person, was denied because, “no reasonable chance of a top 8 ranking in the Olympic Games has been demonstrated.”

Perhaps most difficult about a country telling its athletes to be better, or, in golf parlance, shoot the scores, is that van Driel actually did that earlier this year, winning the Kenya Open. He entered the week ranked 366th in the world and was the 40th-best player in the field on Thursday morning. By Sunday evening, no one had played better, and van Driel was holding the trophy. The Netherlands NOC rules didn’t deem that tournament’s field strong enough, with only two top 100 players in the field.

You don’t have to look hard for examples of lower-ranked players toppling the world’s best during a given week. In January, Jake Knapp played the best tournament of his life, at Torrey Pines, finishing tied for third as the 176th-ranked player on the planet. Four weeks later, he was ranked 101st when he unseated that performance with the new best tournament of his life, a victory at the Mexico Open. 

Pro golf is filled with these stories over the course of a calendar season, but there are even more obvious examples, which Ferguson was keen to point out in his report. Rory Sabbatini was ranked 161st in the world when he shot a Sunday 61 during the Tokyo Games, racing up the leaderboard into a solo-second, silver-medal finish for Slovakia. Hours later, the men’s competition was capped by an epic, 7-player playoff for the bronze, featuring the likes of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Paul Casey. But none of those world-beaters finished on the podium. C.T. Pan did, while ranked 181st in the world, earning one of just 12 medals for Chinese Taipei that summer.

The stingiest of golf fans would argue that this is a merit-based sport and the NOC has simply established a merit-based system. Even Luiten himself has to understand it, if only because this same stipulation kept him from playing in the Olympics in 2020. Ferguson reported that discussions have already been held to change the rules for 2028, but here in 2024 it’s a result that undermines how the International Golf Federation has set up golf as an Olympic sport. When the Netherlands refuses to send its players, the Olympic fields only gets weaker. Luiten and van Driel are expected to be replaced by Joel Girrbach from Switzerland and Tapio Pulkkanen from Finland, two players ranked outside 350th. They, too, wouldn’t be able to crack the Netherlands’ internal standards.

Sean Zak Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

Watch, play, win. Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games.

Watch, play, win

Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games. Featuring simple to play. easy to learn, and fun games. Chirp Golf has something for every golf fan.

Scan to Download:

Google Play Apple Store