NatPost Column: A Certain Type of Golf Should Be In Olympics

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:

Robert Thompson

On Golf

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.

National Post

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • What was proposed by Furyk would never fly as the IOC is only interested in having the best of any sport in the games.

    But if you are going to have amateurs then have true amateurs in the Bobby Jones sense. The currrent “amateur” competitions are really played by pros in waiting who are too young to have turned professional. Was Tiger Woods really an amateur when he won his 3 US Ams? Maybe technically but for all intents and purposes his life had been 100% devoted to golf for a long time – he wasn’t going to law school and preparing for life as a lawyer. It is very analogous 30 years or so ago when only “true” amateurs were allowed which meant that the Soviets could send their best but we couldn’t.

    The whole “amateurs only” is really a romantic Victorian ideal that was created to ensure that only the upper classes would compete in an event like the Olympics because they were the only ones who could live a life of leisure and not suffer the vulgarity (in the Latin sense of the word) of actually taking money to play a sport. That time has passed and golf is still far too stuck to these definitions of amateur and pro.

    But at least we will continue to have a Canadian as the defending Olympic gold medallist for a while longer – way to go George Lyon – 104 years and counting!

  • First let me say that I am an avid supporter of golf in the Olympics – not that that will sway any votes in Lausanne. I am in favour of Olympic golf because golf is a global game now. Hundreds of courses are being built in China, the Asian Tour is enormously successful, the Sunshine Tour in South Africa is growing in leaps and bounds and even Russia hosts a European Tour event now. But golf belongs in the Games because it is one of the few sports that millons of average men and women play. How many are kayakers or visit judokas or work out on trampolines for amusement?
    We don’t need Tiger Woods to sell Olympic golf, whether he’s 40 or not (but I’ll bet you he would be involved in some aspect if he wasn’t playing at 40). The game sells itself at such a level.
    I have to disagree with Furyk and vote for the pros for any Olympic golf competition. They bring the global profile that golf enjoys. Basketball was an enormous hit when the Dream Team participated and walked off with gold. Look how that spurred the rest of the world! From Yao Ming to Jose Calderon, “foreign” players abound in the NBA now. And they’re playing for their national teams in Beijing.
    Give me Olympic golf and give me the pros. The Games will love it and so will the world.

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