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Decisions of Olympian proportions

As things stand, golf in the 2016 Olympics will consist of...wait for it...a 72-hole strokeplay event. Clearly, the format – not to mention the likely participants – is a talking point, as Richard Gillis explains

Forget the debate about whether golf should be included in the Olympics. It’s there, get used to it.

The pro argument is best left to Padraig Harrington. He reckons the Olympics will quickly surpass the majors in terms of esteem within professional golf.

The quality of the field to gather in Rio in 2016 is critical to establishing golf’s Olympic credentials. “I do believe in time the Olympic gold will become the most important event in golf and I don’t believe it will take that long. In the four years between the Olympics there will be 16 majors, so winning gold will be that much more special.” Full marks for the math. But he’s totally wrong, of course. The International Olympic Committee voted for golf to make an appearance in Rio 2016. If it’s deemed a success, then golf rolls on to 2020 and beyond. But if the sport fluffs its lines then all bets are off. A review takes place after Rio as to the success or failure of the Olympic golf competition. Anyone who thinks golf should (and it needs to) reach out to new groups of people should worry about this.

Two basic questions hang over Rio 2016 however:

What and Who?

Question 1: What format should be played?

The Rio 2016 Olympic golf event will feature a men’s and women’s tournament in which only individual medals will be awarded for the top-3 finishers, who will win gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. The caddies, unlike the cox of a rowing boat, will not be getting their hands on any precious metals. The absence of a team competition has annoyed many, including six times major champion Sir Nick Faldo, who told me that a team based matchplay event – a bigger, more complex version of the Ryder Cup for example – was his preferred format.

“I hope we have time to consider the format for the Olympics,” he said, when I interviewed him in Tuscany at the KPMG Golf Business Forum recently.

“I’m surprised it’s going to be just another 72-hole individual strokeplay competition. The Olympics is so much about the team, and we have the women playing at the Olympics as well. We have mixed doubles in tennis, and there are mixed foursomes in golf, so it’s a question of what we could do. I hope it’s not too late to change the format – it’s still four years away. I think they need to sit down and brainstorm some ideas because we are in Rio for two weeks, we have our own site, so why not use it for the whole two weeks? I would like to see them make a decision to play a few more events to showcase the game. This is the golden opportunity to sell golf to a global audience, rather than stage ‘another tournament’; we need to entice people to watch golf and think, ‘Wow, this is really cool!’”

Question 2: Who will play in Rio?

If the Olympics took place next month, Team GB would consist of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Justin Rose. But there is a big caveat here. This version of events depends on whether McIlroy decides to play for Great Britain or Ireland. Currently he is undecided on the issue. He told BBC Northern Ireland recently that not playing at all is a real option.

Using the same criteria, the USA would be represented by Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson.

The quality of the field to gather in Rio in 2016 is critical to establishing golf’s Olympic credentials. The Olympics is the greatest sporting contest in the world, the ultimate in achievement, aimed at identifying the greatest athletes of each sport.

No place then for Ian Poulter, or Graeme McDowell, or Lee Westwood. No Phil Mickelson or Masters champion Bubba Watson or Keegan Bradley.

But, there will be Siddikur Rahman, of Bangladesh, who is ranked around 207th in the world, and world 699th player Marciano Pucay of Phillipines or Fabricio Zanotti of Paraguay.

The International Golf Federation (IGF) issued this guideline to the IOC. ‘A field of 60 players for each of the men’s and women’s competitions, utilizing the Official World Golf Rankings as a method of determining eligibility. The top-15 world-ranked players would be eligible, regardless of the number of players from a given country. Beyond the top-15, players would be eligible based on world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.’

The aim of the IGF’s criteria is to make golf fit with the ethos of the Olympics and ensure as many different countries are represented as possible, which is obviously laudable. The big question is how to juggle this need for diversity with ensuring the Olympics is a competition that tests the best in the world at that moment in time. One of the strong points put in favour of golf’s inclusion in the Olympics was financial. It was argued that the game could deliver the stars of the game and therefore a larger television audience than the other contenders for a spot, such as squash, judo or softball.

The game is under pressure to deliver on that promise.

March/April 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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