Golf returns to the Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years. That should be exciting news, right? Especially to an avid golfer and golf fan like myself, right? The thing is…. I’m not very excited and frankly I question if golf should even be in the Olympics in the first place. Recently players like Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and many others have announced they will not be competing in Rio next month. This has caused many to say that golf should not be in the Olympics if the best players in the world aren’t going to compete. As much as I love golf and as much as I want to be seen on the world stage (in front of one of the largest audiences in all of television), I have began to question myself whether reintroducing golf to the Olympics was a good idea at all. The risk of Zika is just half the picture, and there is quite possibly an underlying reason the stars are skipping out.
The first half of the problem is the location. I’m sure Rio de Janeiro is a great city but I wouldn’t have chosen it to host the Olympic Games and it is definitely not the place to bring back golf. The past Olympics in London would have been the dream scenario. They could have played at a number of amazing courses. There are multiple Open Championship locations and many other quality links courses throughout southeastern England that could have hosted. Even waiting another four years until the games in Japan would have been better. The popularity of golf in Japan has increased exponentially over the last decade or so and it would have been a great spot to have golf return to the Olympics. Instead, Rio was the spot of choice. The course itself is not bad considering it was built specifically for this event and also was designed by one of the best architects in the world, Gil Hanse. However, for both players and fans, no one knows what to expect from course and no is certain how it will look on TV. The main concern with the location is the infrastructure of the city and the threat of the Zika virus in this part of the world. For many young golfers, like McIlroy, this is not somewhere they want to bring their family or risk bringing anything back with them. This is a serious concern and the sanitation and condition of the city are things others athletes should take seriously. I would not be surprised not would I blame other athletes for skipping the games as well.
Another concern for players, like Scott, is the scheduling. The top players in the world will be competing in a World Golf Championship, The Open Championship, The PGA Championship, four events in the FedEx Cup playoffs and finally the Ryder Cup before October. That is a lot of traveling and ton of big time events. Throwing the Olympics in there makes everything even more busy.
In reality, the main reason is that the players simply do not care about the Olympics as much as other athletes do. Gymnasts, swimmers, rowers, and runners all dream of gold medals their whole life. Golfers have four majors each year and the Ryder Cup takes place every other year. I think they all agree that they would way rather win a major than an Olympic medal and the Ryder Cup offers that sense of team and patriotism. I don’t criticize any of the players for skipping out and neither should anyone. The concern over the Zika virus or not, the Olympics committee did not make the tournament enticing enough for players to play and that is on them and them alone. The IOC made their biggest mistake by formatting the tournament the way they did. Four rounds as individuals, the lowest three scores win medals? Are you serious?…. 72 holes of stroke play is the same format as every other week on the PGA Tour. The Olympics are supposed to be special, they are supposed to be about representing your country, and frankly this format doesn’t yield that opportunity or excitement to these golfers. It would feel like any other week for players and for that reason you see the game’s best players choosing to skip out.
I would love golf to have a spot in the Olympics, but it definitely needs a different format. The way it stands now, it won’t be exciting and you will risk having the top ranked players not participate. What they need to do is copy some of the format from the Ryder Cup and from the Dell Match Play. Have countries play head to head in match play or something. Offer something unique they don’t get to play every week. The location and concerns for health did not do the Olympics any favors in getting the best golfers to play, but the the format needs to change in order to get these players to play in four years. The Olympic committee will definitely have to reevaluate the sport’s place in the games after this year’s turnout. It must be embarrassing for them to bring it back after over a century and not get even half of the world’s best golfers. Hopefully they evaluate this and change the format instead of wiping golf from the Olympic slate altogether. I think golf deserves a chance in a better location and with a better format. Then, I believe it can thrive as an Olympic sport. Until that point however, golf’s place in the Olympics will be and should be questioned. I am not too excited to watch and I am not sure what golf fan would be. We have weeks to go and golfers are continuing to drop like flies and anybody might be next. The USA hasn’t had anyone announce they would be missing the games yet but I would not be surprised if that changes in the coming weeks.
Keep your clubs close Gary!