Blow for Team GB's golf chances as two more top-50 ranked men's players withdraw

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Tyrrell Hatton of England plays his shot from the fifth tee during the second round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 18, 2021 in San Diego, California - Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Tyrrell Hatton of England plays his shot from the fifth tee during the second round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 18, 2021 in San Diego, California - Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Team GB’s hopes of retaining Olympic gold in men’s golf have suffered a setback after a late exodus of some of England’s top players.

Tyrrell Hatton (world No 11) and Matt Fitzpatrick (21) have now copied Lee Westwood (27), who last month expressed his intention not to compete in Japan.

Assuming confirmation comes, this means that Tommy Fleetwood, the world No 33, will be in the 60-man field with fellow Englishman Paul Casey at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Fleetwood was still travelling home on Tuesday from last week’s US Open, but it is understood he would be keen to represent his country. If Fleetwood has a change of heart then Justin Rose would be in line to defend his Olympic title. If not, Rose will be first reserve. A spokesperson for Rose told Telegraph Sport: “He will be ready if needed.”

Tommy Fleetwood is expected to represent Team GB - GETTY IMAGES
Tommy Fleetwood is expected to represent Team GB - GETTY IMAGES

While Westwood’s choice was understandable – at 48 he is playing a limited schedule to ensure he is in prime condition for the Ryder Cup in September – there will inevitably be eyebrows raised at the shock decisions of Hatton and Fitzpatrick, revealed when the final qualification lists were published on Tuesday by the International Golf Federation..

At 29 and 26, they are at their physical peak and their agents confirmed neither is injured. Rather they have taken the view of others such as world No 2 Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Sunday’s runner-up Louis Oosthuizen that the Olympics is a tournament too far in the packed calendar, particularly with Covid restrictions. The management teams of Hatton and Fitzpatrick have been asked for comment.

Explaining his 11th-hour withdrawal Hatton said: "I have decided after much thought and consideration to step down from Team GB for the forthcoming Olympics this summer in Tokyo.

"I was very much looking forward to representing my country. However, with the ongoing issues relating to Covid-19 and international travel, along with the congested schedule we now face, I feel it is the correct decision to ensure I get the best out of my game for the remainder of the season."

Garcia was similarly contrite after electing not to be the teammate of Jon Rahm, the Spaniard who went to world No 1 with his first major at the US Open on Sunday. “This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I love the Olympic Games, but my first priority (is) to represent Spain on the international stage in the Ryder Cup.”

He will be replaced on the team by Rafa Cabrera Bello, who tied for fifth in Rio. The men’s competition will be held July 29-August 1 at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan. The women’s competition is August 4-7 at the same course, with their cut-off point coming after this week’s Women’s PGA Championship in Atlanta.

Representing the US will be Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau. Patrick Cantlay is the team’s first reserve.

“I’m going and I’m so excited,” Morikawa, the 2020 US PGA Champion said. “It’s going to be one of the best things of my life. To think back that I was an amateur two years ago, literally two years ago, and to be on this team and to be heading to Tokyo puts a smile on my face.”

Oosthuizen, who finished runner-up in the US Open, was replaced by Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Germany’s two-time major champion Martin Kaymer is another absentee and will be replaced by Hurly Long.

The world’s top 15 were eligible, with a country limited to four players. After that, players qualified based on their world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.

After declining to play in 2016, the first time the sport was included in the Games for more than a century, Rory McIlroy will represent Ireland, along with reigning Open champion, Shane Lowry.

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