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Olympics could have team medal

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Only individual medals will be awarded next year when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. Whether a team competition is added for Tokyo in 2020 depends partly on the success of golf in Rio, and more on whether the IOC deems it worthy of adding golf medals.

Based on the Olympic Agenda, IOC president Thomas Bach said there can be no more than 320 events in 2020.

The hard part would seem to be the format for a team competition. The answer might have come in the Youth Olympic Games last year in China.

Consider this option.

The team competition would last two days and effectively kick off the Tokyo games by behind held on the first weekend. It would be mixed team consisting of one man and one woman. If qualifying ended today, 28 countries could participate in a 72-hole competition.

The first score would be from foursomes. The second score would be from fourballs. The final day would be singles, with each score counting.

That's how it was at Nanjing last year, and it came down to the wire. Sweden wound up winning at 16-under 272, but only after a playoff against South Korea. There also was a playoff for the bronze between Italy and Denmark.

Based on current rankings, a team competition would feature Jordan Spieth and Stacy Lewis playing for the United States. They would compete against teams like Sweden (Anna Nordqvist and Henrik Stenson), Australia (Jason Day and Minjee Lee) and Spain (Sergio Garcia and Azahara Munoz).

The time is right for a proper competition of mixed teams in golf. The old JC Penney Classic at Innisbrook from two decades ago is outdated because of schedules and lack of interest from the men. The Battle at Bighorn was too silly.

The CVS Charity Classic, hosted by Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade, has added LPGA Tour players for several years. There could be no greater stage for a mixed team event than the Olympics. But that starts with having room in the program.

AMATEUR HOUR: Maybe it should not have been so startling to see two amateurs — Paul Dunne and Jordan Niebrugge — among the top six going into the final round of the British Open. Yes, it was rare. But this year has been a strong example that the learning curve is shrinking.

A year ago, Matthew Fitzpatrick of England was the only amateur to make the cut in the U.S. Open. He finished 20 shots behind Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst No. 2. This year, six amateurs made the cut at Chambers Bay. Brian Campbell of Illinois was the low amateur, finishing 10 shots behind Jordan Spieth.

Last year at Hoylake, no amateur made the cut in the British Open. Five amateurs made the cut at St. Andrews, and two of them were serious contenders going into the final round. Ashley Chesters was also only six shots behind going into Monday, while British Amateur champion Romain Langasque of France was within four shots of the lead late in the third round until he faltered.

And on the day that Dunne became the first amateur in 44 years to be a 54-hole leader at a major championship (Jim Simons at Merion in the 1971 U.S. Open was the last one), don't ignore what was going on back on the PGA Tour. Robby Shelton of Alabama was three shots behind going into the last round at the Barbasol Championship, and he wound up in a tie for third.

So maybe Spieth was right. An amateur winning a PGA Tour event — maybe even a major — might not be too far off.

CLASS OF '11: Ollie Schniederjans is the latest from the class of 2011 — that's high school, not college — to try his hand on the PGA Tour.

Schniederjans played his final event as an amateur at the British Open. He made the cut in both majors he played this year, exempt to the U.S. Open and British Open as No. 1 in the world amateur ranking last year.

He has been given a spot in the Canadian Open, and hopes to do well enough in a short amount of time to at least qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. He could have started earlier, but that would have meant giving up spots in two majors.

Others from his class include Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger. Two are solid candidates as PGA Tour rookie of the year (Thomas and Berger). One is on his way to earning his tour card through sponsor exemptions (Rodgers).

STAT OF THE WEEK: Americans have won the first three majors of the year. The last time they swept them in one season was in 1982 with Craig Stadler, Tom Watson (twice) and Raymond Floyd.

Ireland's Paul Dunne, left, acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the third round of the British Open. He became the first amateur in 44 years to be a 54-hole leader at a major championship. AP PHOTO