I missed it, but last Friday my column on golf and the Olympics appeared in the National Post. You can find it here. However, given space considerations, the column was cut significantly. Here it is in all its unedited glory:
Last week’s PGA Championship was a struggle. The tournament faced rain storms, an uninteresting course setup, and was missing golf’s best player. In a final indignity, the event had to go head-to-head with the Olympics for coverage. That meant golf’s fourth and final major of this year found itself on the back pages of newspapers around the world, and in the middle of sportscasts. The PGA Championship has long been regarded as being the least significant of golf’s top tournaments, but this year it was practically incognito.
Phil Mickelson has a solution to the last issue. He thinks the notion of golf and the Olympics squaring off should end. The PGA Tour, and every tour from around the world, from the Asian Tour to the Canadian Tour, should embrace the Olympics, Mickelson says, and in turn bring a renewed focus to golf. If you can’t beat them, join them, Mickelson says. Make golf part of the games.
“Having golf an Olympic sport is exponentially more important to the game of golf than the majors,” Mickelson said at last week’s PGA Championship outside of Detroit. “The majors are incredibly big as we know, but we still capture the same audience that (is) already interested in the game.”
The Olympics, he argues, will bring a new audience. Mickelson isn’t alone in his opinions. His comments mirrored those of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who said earlier this year that involving golf in the Olympics was a necessity for the game.
Of course for Finchem it all comes down to economics. The more people who get a glimpse of golf, the more they’ll be willing to ante up for the products players pitch, from equipment to Gatorade. Golfers might have to take a week or two away from the lucrative PGA Tour, he points out, but what goes around will eventually come around.
“They’ll be paid back eventually,” Finchem added.
Not everyone is in agreement. Trevor Immelman wasn’t toeing the party line. Professional golfers have no place in the Olympics, the Masters champ said.
“The Olympics is not about tennis or golf or anything like that,” he said. “In my opinion those are like in basketball – you’ve got three sports there that are like guys are getting paid a lot of money to play and compete week-in and week-out playing those sports, and it’s just so professional. And to me that’s not what the Olympics is about.”
None of this debate may amount to much, at least in the short term. Currently, even with the lobbying that Finchem and various golf organizations are throwing at the matter, golf won’t appear at the Olympics until 2016, if at all. By that time, many of the crop of golf’s top current stars would be nearing the end of their careers, with Tiger Woods, for example, being 40. There’s the distinct possibility that Woods will curtail his schedule following his recent knee injury. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering golf’s best player focused his efforts on the four majors even before his recent malady by playing an abbreviated schedule. Would the Olympics be of enough interest to have him overlook his sore, 40-year-old knees? Maybe – but only if he wants to pull a Michael Jordan move and make one last statement near the end of his career. And we all know that Tiger likes to make statements.
From a Canadian perspective, it is also hard to see the appeal. Mike Weir already perennially plays in the two-man World Cup event, an event designed to place professional golf on the world stage. But hardly anyone pays attention, especially since many of the best players in the world take a pass on it. Would golf in the Olympics be any different?
Maybe there is a solution – make Olympic golf open only to amateurs.
That is Jim Furyk’s take on it: “I want to watch the (Olympics) where basically professionals aren’t playing. Where that is the absolute pinnacle of their career and they had to wait four years for this one moment and they go out and they perform — break a world record, win a gold medal and they were able to perform on the spot.”
Furyk’s perspective is clear. Let the public see the rising stars of the game before they burn brightest on the professional stage. Let us see them playing for something other than huge payouts and corporate endorsements influence our opinion of them. Let us see the game in a purer sense, closer to the one played by Bobby Jones than by golfers who make millions before they tip it up.
But alas, there’s little chance that’s the scenario golf’s gatekeepers have that in mind.