Olympic Golf Looking Better Than We Thought
Numerous post-mortems about Olympic golf have been either written in articles or verbalized in interviews since the end of the Games. In the months leading up to the two-week sports cornucopia, a lot of the projections were bad – and I admit to helping on that score. The course-building process was a nightmare, the male portion of the attendance list shrank by the hour, and social and political woes tried to intervene on a regular basis. There was already a resistance to golf as an Olympic sport, but many of us continue to offer the reminder that it’s called the Olympic “Games.”
Suddenly, the mood is not so glum after one or two weeks of second thoughts about the situation. Apaprently, the game of golf itself was a hit with several important groups. These include locals who are not accustomed to viewing golf as a high priority national sport in the host country. Nevertheless, the hometown crowds put in a pazazzy response to the whole process. The TV networks did well with both men’s and women’s events, the pairings were interesting, and the distribution of medals, in an international sense, was outstanding. Yes, it was six countries and six medals. For the game itself, that couldn’t have come out better. Far worse, to have one golf-oriented country dominate things on every level. We were introduced to new names, new faces, and new venues. I realized at the time that golf is not shrinking in popularity. Maybe it’s not thriving as it once did in the old golf powers, but in other parts of the world, it’s on fire. Hopefully, that will be enough to reignite parts of the west as the global competition ramps up.
Justin Rose certainly did his part to make such a thing happens. He is, apparently, surprised at the response he has received following his return home. It was pretty much everything but a ticker tape parade through the streets of London. Inbee Park didn’t do the cause any harm, either. After weeks of protests against her very presence in the Games, she overcame an injury and won the thing going away. Considering some of the names in the field, that wasn’t easy, and her victory created just the sort of story the Olympic Games are supposed to create – stellar individual overcomes adversity to triumph. The human race loves that, and always will.
Michael Whan, Commissiioner of the LPGA, expressed it from a perspective I hadn’t really considered much to that point. He described the various sports played around the world as either “sports” or “podium sports.” Among the major differences, he says, is that podium sports are funded, in terms of “team programs, coaches, access to facilities.” With all the undminished talk of making the game faster, it may be golf as a podium sport that helps it to rekindle the old flame of a century plus. As I have always believed, making the game faster will make it faster, but not cool. Besides, once we’ve sped up, our persepectives will revert, and we’ll have to speed it up some more to feel as if a change has been made. No, to stand on the podium with a medal, seeing your home flag and hearing your own national anthem – now, that’s cool, not just hurrying all your shots.
The atmosphere wasn’t like a PGA or LPGA tournament is expected to be,. It was nationalistic, with patriotic outbursts by those following eacb and every shot made by their countrymen. Some have expressed sadness over that, but it doesn’t need to be quite like the tour. Golf is still on the books, as far as we know, for the Tokyo Games of 2020. Past that, it’s anyone’s guess. But if golf comes out smelling like the Olympic Rose it did this year, the supposedly shrinking game may have just entered an exciting new market.