Put it down to the fact that pulses were still beating fast after all the fireworks and fanfare of the Beijing Olympics but sportswriters the world over—keen to keep the flame burning, so to speak—have immediately turned their attention to the debate about golf and the Games.
And while countless column inches have been given over to the issue, most seemed to have missed the point entirely. Golf at the Olympics is simply not a case of if but of when.
Initially, two spots are up for grabs at the 2016 Games—and it seems the sports battling it out with golf will include baseball, karate, roller sports, rugby, softball and squash, according to the PGA Tour.
But if they look at this realistically, deep down inside the Tour must know the battle has already been won. In the modern sporting world, it is money that matters. And the IOC must be licking its lips at the thought of getting a slice of golf’s corporate pie.
This is, after all, the organization that had basketballers in Beijing up and on court while still wiping the sleep from their eyes, and had swimmers splashing down way past their bed times—all to satisfy the American TV networks (and the millions they provide).
Given the chance, they’ll move mountains to accommodate the corporations and their cash. And that’s not a criticism. It’s a fact.
What golf also has going for it is the fact that the game’s organizers seem unified behind the move—the PGA Tour, R&A, USGA, LPGA and Augusta National have all been nodding their heads in agreement.
“I have no doubt that Olympic golf is comfortably the biggest grow-the-game opportunity that exists to help us bring golf to so many countries where it's just starting up,’’ said R&A secretary Peter Dawson recently.
And while that may well be so, the two main obstacles the game will face in chasing its Olympic dream are how to win over the players—and how to play the game.
How exactly do you format Olympic golf? Do you opt for matchplay? Structure it into two-man teams a la The World Cup? And how many players get invited, and how do they qualify?
More is the point, of course, how do you get players to really, truly, care?
While some—Tiger Woods included—are warm to the idea of golf at the Games, just as many have come out against the move.
“I don’t think there's any place for golf in the Olympics,’’ was Australian Adam Scott’s take on the issue. “I didn't grow up looking to win an Olympic medal. I grew up trying to win a Green Jacket.’’
And therein lies the catch. As anyone who took in the tennis in Beijing can tell you, the fields consisted of just as many players who didn’t seem to care (Andy Murray, anyone?) as those who obviously did.
It seems this remains the one set-back to allowing professional sportspeople into the Olympics. Suddenly, they have a new event to compete with the ones they have spent a life-time striving to win.
And while golf does have an Olympic history—it was taken off the roster back in 1904—how do you suddenly make it mean as much, to everyone, as events such as the four Majors, or the Ryder Cup?
Open champ Padraig Harrington, for one, believes it will take time. A lot of time.
“Maybe in 50 or 100 years time, the Olympics would be [considered] the fifth Major,’’ he told the Irish Times. “But it wouldn't be at the moment.’’
You only have to look at the American basketball team to see how it can all go wrong. The NBA’s pros were let in back in 1992 to help boost interest in the Games—and the sport. But once the novelty had worn off, the move became an embarrassment. And the top players just didn’t want to play.
There was gold in ’92, but by Athens in 2004, the American billionaires had been beaten into third place.
It took a concerted, three-year commitment to get them to gold again in Beijing and their coach, Mike Krzyzewsk said before the event it became less about finding the best “names’’, and more about finding those that wanted to play.
“We had to start all over again and get together a bunch of players for whom the Olympics meant as much as anything in their careers,’’ he said.
And, for golf, finding those kinds of players will be the toughest task ahead.
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