I freely admit I’ve flagrantly flip-flopped about Golf in the Olympics.
In T2G’s of old, I’ve wavered between enthusiasm and cynicism. Like a politician presented with a snap poll that predicts impending doom a week before election, I’ve changed position so many times I can barely count.
This week in Tokyo – or to be exact, at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama – the second modern iteration of Olympic Golf takes place. I’m kind of underwhelmed, and you can’t think that the IOC are going to be very happy.
The IOC wants the unattainable for Olympic Golf
The brief of the IOC to the International Golf Federation was that Olympic golf needed all the top players. That didn’t happen in the men’s event in Rio 2016 and isn’t happening this time either.
I’m sure the IOC’s vision when the concept of the sport re-entering the games was pitched to them was, predominantly, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. It seems increasingly likely that neither will ever play in the Games, for one reason or another.
World No 1 Jon Rahm would have played this time, but is a Covid casualty. No 2 Dustin Johnson wasn’t interested. Nos 3, 4 and 5, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele are all there.
No 6 Bryson DeChambeau, like Rahm, is a last-minute Covid casualty. Brooks Koepka (7) and Louis Oosthuizen (8) demurred.
Rory McIlroy, a famous decliner in Rio, held true to his promise that he’d play in Tokyo, even though he’s far likelier to catch this contemporary virus than the Zika virus used as an excuse five years ago.
Further down the OWGR, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood all declined, allowing Tommy Fleetwood to make up Team GB with Paul Casey.
Even allowing for the format which ensures an even spread of nations, it is, at best, a patchy field. The Scottish Open field at the beginning of July was far better.
Covid may be a factor this time, but it wasn’t in Rio
You can make a case that Covid has perhaps convinced some not to compete. Representation may be better in Paris in 2024, if we’re free of this affliction even by then.
But the IOC will have taken note of the fields, and I would imagine further iterations of Olympic Golf are going to require some sort of convincing lobbying by the IGF. But really, it’s the IOC’s own fault it’s not working.
Olympic women’s golf, in sharp contrast to the men, has the majority of top players (although not all).
That’s probably because none of the women’s major championships, while all prestigious in their own way, are really so important that they outflank an Olympic event as a de facto “World Championship”.
Nobody’s ever pretending that an Olympic gold medal compares to a Claret Jug or Green Jacket in men’s golf.
But once Augusta National stop pussyfooting – or dragging their heels – and start a Women’s Masters, it will immediately be the most prestigious event in their game.
And that would also allow the Olympics to offer something different, something actually progressive in golf.
Change the format and make it fresh for all
Why does it have to be another two 72-hole events? The relentless grind of the tours is what it is, and despite the millions offered by the PGL or SGL, it seems we’re pretty much stuck with it. Why not have something radically different for golf at the Games?
Golf won’t ever have the variety to match swimming’s multiple medals for different ways of moving your arms. But it does have a few different ways of playing. Including one that allows men and women to play together competitively as part of the same team.
Quite why mixed teams has never been considered for Olympic golf is beyond my reasoning. It surely fulfils everything the Games wants to promote – true national team representation, equality, inclusivity.
Nelly Korda and Collin Morikawa. Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson. Danielle Kang and Justin Thomas (you could have more than one team from each country).
Hideki Matsuyama and Hinako Shibuno. Minjee Lee and Adam Scott. In Bee Park and Sungjae Im. Leona Maguire and Rory McIlroy. Emily Kristine Pederson and Rasmus Hojgaard. Lydia Ko and Ryan Fox. Georgia Hall and Matt Fitzpatrick. Carlota Ciganda and Jon Rahm.
I could go on. But it looks and sounds like…great fun.
Sure, some top names would be squeezed out of taking part but isn’t that happening already?
A golfing competition to appeal to all
I’m pretty sure the suits at the top of the IGF would be pretty happy with such a format. The problem is the IOC, who insist against all reason that Olympic golf must be a premier event in the world game.
Olympic golf in a mixed format would be a refreshing breath of air that worked for our sport and for the Games. And remember, the Olympics reach viewers in all markets all over the world that golf could ever hope to find.
There’s time to sort this out before Paris. The Olympics could have a new, attractive and fresh approach to golf, and surely all those strange Counts, Princesses and Sheikhs on the IOC can be finally convinced of that.
It would be a competition even in stuffy, conservative old golf that might appeal to all.