Golf-Hovland cites Norway's rich Olympic tradition as he eyes Tokyo Games

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By Andrew Both

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina (Reuters) - Do not try telling Norway's Viktor Hovland that Olympic golf is unimportant.

While several players have ruled out competing in Japan this summer, Hovland is raring to represent his country.

Golf does not have big profile in his homeland, and he believes that doing well at the Olympics would be a great way to put the sport in the spotlight back home.

"We have a very rich Olympic tradition, and now with golf

being an Olympic sport, I think it would be great for people

back home to just get into the sport," Hovland said after taming strong winds to share the clubhouse lead on three-under-par 69 in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday.

"We had a couple of Norwegian players play in 2016, and they certainly loved the experience ... and if you have a

chance to compete, I certainly would not decline."

The July 29-Aug. 1 Olympic event at Kasumigaseki in Tokyo is in a busy spot on the golf calendar, shortly after the British Open, and movement restrictions due to Tokyo's coronavirus numbers mean players will largely have to restrict themselves to the golf course and hotel.

"It's unfortunate the circumstances that we're dealing with," said Hovland, 23, a former U.S. Amateur champion who has risen to 11th in the world rankings in his short time as a pro.

"It looks like it's going to be pretty strict. There's not a whole lot of fun stuff to do, if you will, outside of the golf course, so that's going to be a little downer.

"But just to be able to compete as an Olympian is a huge honour, and hopefully, I can represent Norway well."

Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016 after an absence of more than a century, but a bunch of top players stayed away, mostly citing concerns over the Zika virus.

Some, including former world number ones Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, however, also spoke candidly of the low priority of Olympic golf compared to the sport's four major championships.

American world number one Dustin Johnson, Australian Scott and Britain's Lee Westwood have announced they will not compete in Tokyo, though of the trio only Johnson is assured of qualifying.

(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)

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