Golf Editorial

Golf and the Olympic Games

Introductory Comment 

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.

No-Shows 

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.

What’s Wrong? 

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.

© Copyright Mike J Miller: 18 September 2017