Ok, so I’m going to start this week’s blog with an apology. An apology, that is, for being negative. Negative about golf. Negative about the sport I love and have been involved with my entire life. Negative about Olympic golf. Negative about men’s Olympic golf in particular.
I do understand that it is important to have a presence in the Olympics to access and open up a flow of funding into the sport at grass roots level. I also get that the Olympics can help “grow the game” (horrible expression), potentially exposing folks to the sport who may never otherwise have taken it under their notice. This is particularly important now that in these islands there is absolutely no live golf on terrestrial television.But what a botch the powers-that-be have made of it all. The 72-hole format is, by and large, one of the most boring in the game. Please don’t give me that guff about the players liking it as it identifies the best player. How often does the highest-ranked player in the world (i.e. the best player) win in any given week? Rarely! And if this IS about drawing more people into the game, why not put on some kind of exciting matchplay format which is much more compelling from day one?
The last fortnight I have been royally entertained by such diverse sports as hockey, eventing, swimming, badminton, gymnastics, sailing, diving, table tennis, track and field and all sorts of cycling to name but a few. Thank goodness Hideki Matsuyama missed an 8-footer on the last for the bronze medal. At least a frisson of excitement was generated by the seven-man play-off for third spot.Part of the appeal of watching a lot of the sports with which I’m not overly familiar is the inherent admiration for athletes who put everything on the line in order to peak at a certain time in what is normally a four-year cycle. I just can’t summon up the same enthusiasm for a sub-standard field of sixty players, many of whom have little hope of booking a tee time in the sport’s four majors. And for the few truly world-class players who ARE there there have already been four opportunities this year to nab one of golf’s greatest prizes.
Men’s Olympic golf is not a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stamp your mark on the game. Phil Mickelson has played in more than 100 majors in his long career and I guarantee every one of them had a stronger field than last week at Kasumigaseki Country Club. Perhaps that is why so many of the top players eschew the opportunity to play Olympic golf – they simply can’t drum up the desire to do so when in their minds there are four superior prizes on offer each year.If Olympic golf is to be long-lasting and successful in terms of fighting its corner against all the other sports that are vying for the attention of our young people, then it needs a revamp. Ditch the strokeplay element and come up with a more mano a mano approach that is stimulating and exciting for the spectator. And to elevate the importance of the Olympics to a golfer build the tour calendars that year around the Olympics. Make Olympic golf the jewel in the crown, the focal point of every fourth year, not an event shoehorned in amongst other majors and soul-less, yet important money-spinners like the Fed-Ex Cup play-offs.
If there isn’t a real desire to showcase golf, engaging all the players and making it inconceivable that they would choose to miss the Olympics and if there isn’t the will to step up and make the best use of this stupendous global platform then we are indeed missing a trick. If that is the case, golf’s return to the Olympic arena may well be short-lived and deservedly so.
The women, to their credit, have a different view of Olympic golf but it still requires innovative thinking and proper positioning in tour schedules to make it fly, no easy feat as the women have five majors to contend for each season.
I do hope golf adapts and makes the most of this opportunity to be on a stage that is bigger than a single sport can ever be.