Golf may not seem par for the course in Olympics but for now at least it’s here to stay
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson staged an epic medal duel to help the much maligned profile of golf in the Games
There is no debate and the point is moot. Golf is an Olympic sport and just like the transcendent pair of sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps, golfers Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar are Olympic medallists.
That is an irrefutable and undeniable truth and how you feel about golf being in the Olympics this year is immaterial in the pursuit of cold hard facts.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was the number four ranked player in the world and a former number one. He does not believe golf belongs in the Olympics and was explicit in saying so. “I will watch the Olympics, but not golf,” he said. “Honestly, I’ll be watching the stuff that matters.”
Like what, dressage and show jumping?
As elitist as golf may seem, I can absolutely, unequivocally guarantee you that there are millions more people playing the game than doing show jumping on the back of a powerful Danish warmblood.
No sport has garnered as much negative PR over its inclusion in the Olympics than golf. Legions of overwrought commentators told us that golf does not belong in the Olympics.
But neither does endemic corruption among IOC officials and yet that has been a staple of the modern Olympic movement for close to a century.
For those who actually allowed themselves to watch the final day of the men’s golf they would have seen the type of pure drama and patriotic verve that is supposedly at the core of Olympics. Great Britain’s Rose and Sweden’s Stenson were involved in an epic battle and were tied coming into the final hole.
Both men are multimillionaires and major champions. Presumably, an Olympic gold would be little more than a fashion accessory. However, when Rose made birdie on the final hole to win gold, his joy was palpable and uncontainable, just as Stenson’s disappointment was impossible to hide.
There was no hiding the excitement, however, when Rose, Stenson and bronze medallist Kuchar ascended to the podium for the medal presentation. They were almost childlike in their glee.
Rose, as always, was thoughtful and generous in articulating the true feeling of the Olympic victory. “This has resonated far wider than my US Open win,” he said, before adding that he had received a congratulatory message from McIlroy. “So, I guess he watched,” Rose said with a laugh.
The SCMP understands Rose will be back to defend his UBS Hong Kong Open titlein December and imagine the introduction as he steps up to the first hole. “On the tee from England, US Open and Olympic gold medal champion Justin Rose.” Now that is cachet.
In October of 2009, golf officials made a pitch for inclusion to the IOC during their 102nd congress. Sixty-three members voted in favour and 26 voted against it. Golf was now in for both the 2016 Games in Rio and 2020 in Tokyo and the reason why could be summed up in two words: Tiger Woods.
At that point in time, Woods was arguably the most famous athlete in the world playing a sport the overwhelming majority of the world knew nothing about. The Olympics, and more importantly their corporate sponsors, felt they needed the ratings boost Tiger could deliver and golf similarly felt they needed to frame their explosive growth on the biggest global stage.
Woods, himself, admitted he was looking forward to competing. Of course, a little more than two months later Woods was involved in one of the most sensational sex scandals, seriously tarnishing his corporate brand.
Yet whenever he played he was still boffo box office and in 2012 during the London Olympics, Woods, who was still one of the world’s top players, said he was looking forward to playing in Rio. But four years is a long time and today Woods can hardly swing a club, never mind play competitively.
The top four players in the world coming in to Rio – Jason Day of Australia, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth of the US and McIlroy – showed what they think of the Olympics by not coming, which is fine and their prerogative. They will all be happy to know that they were hardly missed. However, after watching how successful the event was in Rio they are likely pointing towards Tokyo in 2020. But just ask Tiger how long and unpredictable four years is. The future is promised to no one.
In the meantime, until the IOC votes otherwise, golf is an Olympic sport. It’s that simple and any discussion to the contrary is merely noise pollution in a world that is much too loud these days.