Golf May Strike Olympic Gold

In October of 2009, Michelle Wie and Padraig Harrington made impassioned speeches in Copenhagen before an international body of peers, at least indirectly. No, they hadn’t been detained by customs, and they weren’t protesting anything. The body they addressed was the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, and soon after, that body voted to include golf in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, pending further votes.

A lot of champions in the golf world, both present and past, have expressed enormous interest in getting some of that action. Tiger says he’ll play if he hasn’t retired by then. After all, he’ll reach the grand age of forty that year. Annika might be interested in coming back, and Lorena Ochoa expressed hearty enthusiasm for the possibility. Former champions are easy that way, though. Dangle a top international award for which they’ve never been eligible before their eyes, and they’ll say “Retirement? What retirement? Get me to the driving range.”
But not so fast, great ones. Provided the confirming votes for golf as an Olympic event are forthcoming, remember that it’s not an invitational. Both men and women will begin with a sixty player field in a 72 hole qualifying tournament, just as usual. Eligibility for the tournament will be decided by world rankings, among other considerations, and the structure will be set up to include as many countries as possible.

This will cause havoc in my family, especially my nephew, who debates the fine points between “games” and “sports” with distinction. “Golf is not a sport,” he says. “It’s a game.” He further claims that “golfers are not athletes,” but “sportsmen” and “practitioners.” Score one for golf – they are called the Olympic Games, after all.

The last time golf appeared as an Olympic sport (oh, sorry…game) was back in 1900 and 1904, Paris and St. Louis. Golds were won by Margaret Ives Abott and Charles Sands, silver by Chandler Egan and Walter Rutherford, bronze by Burt McKinnie, Francis Newton and David Robertson. They were all Americans and Canadians, the only two countries competing. One must wonder where the Scots were hiding out, but there were several playing for the Canadians. At any rate, we haven’t seen golf in the Olympics since.

Things are different now. Millions upon millions play the game in one hundred and twenty countries, and despite an earlier vote that fell short, many countries have famous representatives, such as Sorenstam of Sweden, Ochoa of Mexico, Els of South Africa and Sing of Fiji. Fiji, incidentally, has a vote on the IOC Board. Jack Nicklaus should also be mentioned as a powerful presence behind the movement, which can only elevate the international game further.

By the way, rugby was the other sport voted into the next two summer Olympics. Their vote was 81 to 8, somewhat better than golf’s 63 to 27. Won’t that sweeten the debate between “sport” and “game?” I say, if it’s hard, competitive, popular and fun, play it. Instead of splitting hairs with semantics, include any sport that has broad appeal, and that can be respected as a true test of skill.

Nobody knows for sure where the 2016 Olympics will be held, but Rio is a strong possibility. Rugby would be right up their alley, but apparently, they’d have to come up with some good golf courses. I’m they’ll figure it out, and that my nephew and I will be watching, whether we agree on the terminology or not. He’s a pretty fair golfer himself, certainly better than I am, and I’m counting on him not being able to resist it. I don’t think many other golfers will, either. A gold medal in golf has a nice ring to it.

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