Golf struggled mightily to win a place on the Olympics roster for Rio & eventually succeeded in time for Rio 2016.
That noteworthy achievement can be deemed a moderate success, despite issues regarding health, completion of a new course, Tours’ re-scheduling and the eventual absence of a raft of top male players.
Despite all of those issues, the two gold medalists, Justin Rose & InBee Park, were worthy winners.
Some of those top male player absences were attributable to fears over the Zika Virus, which ultimately proved unfounded, while a lot of players simply couldn’t be bothered, for various reasons.
That’s not uncommon either in golf; top golfers these days are over-rewarded and over-pampered and golf is a very individual game. But, in my opinion, the absentees (expectants fathers perhaps excused) let themselves down badly and did their game and their fans & countries a disservice.
By contrast, when grossly overpaid sports pro’s were earlier permitted to participate in the Olympics (Basketball, USA Dream Team, 1992) they all turned up: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, et al. They recognised the significance of the moment, the opportunity to represent their country and a duty to put self-interest aside and help grow their sport. They succeeded! Mightily!
Back to those modern spoiled brats. Among the no-shows for 2016 Olympics golf were some of the biggest global golfing names, few of whom had a worthy excuse: Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Branden Grace, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth & Charl Schwartzel.
Also not interested in attending were: Vijay Singh, Tim Wilkinson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Brendon de Jonge, KT Kim, Victor Dubuisson (though he withdraws from everything!), Graeme McDowell, Matt Francesco Molinari, Hideto Tanihara, Angelo Que, Matt Jones & Camilo Villegas.
Surprisingly, female withdrawals were minimal, with South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace (Zika-phobia) the only significant name to decline.
What Might Have Been
Imagine for a moment a USA team of Spieth & Johnson, an Australian team of Leishman & Scott, a South African team of Oosthuizen & Schwartzel, a Japanese team of Matsuyama & Tanihara, a Northern Irish team of McIlroy & McDowell, etc.
I should add, as a postscript, that Basketball in Rio 2016 was missing as many global stars as golf (though that didn’t occur at London2012 or Beiing 2008)! So, are we witnessing a generational change in attitude to Olympic gold or did Brazil just suck big-time as a destination? Or was there a large group of male golfers who feared the Olympic anti-doping tests? Unlikely.
Anyway, all of the above leads me to the main point of this article. How could the Olympic Games accommodate Individual and Team Golf (which can be truly tribalistic) without a swag of time-consuming head-to-head matches and, in the process, become more appealing?
It has just been announced that golf will remain on the Olympic calendar until at least 2024, which is critical as it means gold medal golf won’t be played in Brazil (which doesn’t move the needle in golfing terms) but in Japan 2020 & France 2024 (USA 2028?) – consumption markets that will move the needle!
From Golf Channel, “Some found last year’s format of 72 holes of stroke play too uninspired for the Olympics and various alternatives have been suggested, including calls for a team portion to the competition.”
I was uninspired and I also missed a national team element.
Antony Scanlon, the executive director of the International Golf Federation that oversees golf in the Olympics, said today “We, along with the IOC, will reflect on the competitions after the 2020 Games, and consider additional formats, either a change to the current competition (like a shift to match play) or a new team element.”
Yeah, Antony, let’s do nothing before we plan for 2024! Incredible. Incredibly lazy or merely naive?
This clown added, “Timing is an element; there is a finite number of days of the competition, and you aren’t left much for a team competition and you don’t want to devalue the medal by rushing a competition. We have spoken to a number of players and they weren’t too happy trying to shoehorn in another event. It’s been a long year for the players, so the workload was another consideration.”
That is an absolute wimpish cop-out as well as being unimaginatively short-sighted and patently untrue! What this strategy means is 2024 will be the only, and maybe the last, opportunity to secure golf as an Olympic event. What it also means is that Scanlon is demonstrably unfit to hold his current position.
If 2020 is as uninspiring as 2016 then 2024 better be an absolute smash-hit, or golf will disappear from the Olympics from 2028, Los Angeles. Growing the game? Not even trying!
What the Solution?
It is not helpful to criticise a sport’s Olympic strategy without offering an alternative, so here are the components of mine; based on what I think was most banal about Rio 2016: small fields of just 60 players, an unknown new course & no ‘national team’ element:
· Play (Mens & Womens) over four days;
· Stroke Play;
· On established, even famous, courses;
· Fields of 156 players;
· No cut;
· Eligibility determined by OWGR rankings with a limit of 8 players per country;
· Four-person teams per country;
· Each ‘national team’ playing as a foursome over all four rounds.
This will deliver a 156-player tournament while simultaneously enabling a 27-country, international teams’ competition, with the event and its six (not three) medals decided in just four days: individual & team.
I used today’s OWGR world rankings to inspect how the 39 teams, and thus the 156-player field, would pan out based on my above criteria.
The result was 27 different countries represented with twelve countries earning a 2nd team based on their ‘national strength’ as measured by individual world rankings. (I’d argue that’s about right)
Those 12 are pretty much all the game’s powerhouses: USA, GB&I, Japan, France, Korea, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Thailand & Canada.
Here are the notional 39 teams, roughly in order of strength:
USA Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler
Gb&I Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood
USA2 Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman
Spain Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Pablo Larrazabal
Aust Marc Leishman, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Scott Hend
Gb&I2 Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Russell Knox
Jpn Hideki Matsuyama, Yuta Ikeda, Hideto Tanihara, Satoshi Kodaira
Swe Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, David Lingmerth, Alexander Bjork
Rsa Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Dylan Frittelli
Can Adam Hadwin, MacKenzie Hughes, Graham Delaet, Nick Taylor
Den Thorbjorn Olesen, Soren Kjeldsen, Lasse Jensen, Lucas Bjerregaard
Kor Siwoo Kim, Byeonghun An, Jeunghun Wang, Sunghoon Kang
NZL Danny Lee, Ryan Fox, Michael Hendry, Tim Wilkinson
Tha Jaidee, Aphibarnrat, Janewattananond, Khongwatmai
Jpn2 Shugo Imahira, Yusaku Miyazato, Daisuke Kataoka, Miyamoto
Fra Alex Levy, Matthieu Pavon, Julien Guerrier, Lorenzo-Vera
Fra2 Romain Wattel, Bourdy, Benjamin Hebert, Adrien Saddier
Irl Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington, Paul Dunne, Seamus Power
Ita F Molinari, Paratore, E Molinari, Matteo Manassero
Ger Martin Kaymer, B Ritthammer, Alex Knappe, Stefan Jaeger
Kor2 KT Kim, Younghan Song, Sanghyun Park, Jung-gon Hwang
Rsa2 Dean Burmester, George Coetzee, Jaco Van Zyl, Richard Sterne
Bel Thomas Pieters, N Colsaerts, Thomas Detry, Christopher Mivis
Aus2 Cam Smith, Aaron Baddeley, Andrew Dodt, Brad Kennedy
Esp2 Adrian Otaegui, Jorge Campillo, Nacho Elvira, A Canizares
Swe2 Rikard Karlberg, J Lagergren, Oscar Lengden, Johan Carlsson
Arg Emiliano Grillo, Andres Romero, Fabian Gomez, A Nunez
Ind Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chawrasia, G Bhullar, Shiv Kapur
Chn Li Haotong, Dou Zecheng, Wu Ashun, Zhang Xinjun
Ger2 Alex Cejka, Marcel Siem, Max Kieffer, Von Dellingshausen
Tha2 Saksanin, Marksaeng, Boonma, Wannasrichan
Can2 David Hearn, Austin Connelly, Silverman, Sloan
Phi Juvic Pagunsan, M Tabuena, Angelo Que, A Lascuna
Ned Joost Luiten, D Huizing, Van Driel, Van der Vaart
Fin Korhonen, Ilonen, Pulkkanen, Lindell
Tpe CT Pan, Chan Shih-Chang, Hung CY, Lu Wei-Chih
Aut Wiesberger, Wiegele, Nemecz, Matthias Schwab
Mas Gav Green, Fung, Danny Chia, Ben Leong
Mex Ancer, Jose de J Rodriguez, R Diaz, Carlos Ortiz
Countries that came close were: Colombia, Portugal, Chile … A couple had one good golfer but little support crew: Paraguay, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Fiji …
It’s not perfect, nothing is, but I believe it meets all the objectives canvassed above: more players for a proper tournament, completed in 4 days, containing individual & nation competitions and adding to the spectacle by contemporaneously showcasing 312, not 120, golfers and 39 teams to its on- and off-course audiences.