While this year marks the return of golf to the summer Olympics in Rio, this event has been met with, at best, a lukewarm response from the golf community.

The professional ranks have given little attention to this event, with notables such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, and Graeme McDowell refusing to compete for their respective countries.  Indeed, Rory has gone so far as to say that:

“I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships. I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.’’

While I appreciate Rory’s candor, part of me feels as though this attitude marks a departure with the beautiful amateur tradition of golf.  The days of Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet appear to be well behind us.  I find it hard to believe that if Bobby Jones were around today with an opportunity to compete for love of country and the pure love of golf that he would shy away because of the overblown threat of Zika.  Yes, golf in the Olympics does not have the history or tradition of a U.S. Amateur or British Amateur, but don’t we have to start somewhere?  Even if we hold the IOC in such low regard as to think that they would add the Olympics to get a few more viewers, shouldn’t golf be happy to take advantage of the opportunity to grow the game to countries that have no significant exposure?

In any event, I think the IOC (or whoever oversaw the competition) did the game a disservice by sticking with a monumentally boring 72-hole medal play format and not including a team component and/or a component where men and women compete in the same event.  How great would it be to have a mixed best ball event?  an alternate shot event?  I understand that the committee is just dipping a toe in the water, but come on!  Let’s make this something people want to watch!  To the format’s credit, there will be playoffs in the event of any ties, so there will not be 4-5 bronze medals given out for T-3s.

At minimum, we get some really great stories like Ben An, who’s parents were Olympians in their own right in table tennis.  When they met during the Olympics, Ben’s South Korean father told a young lady on the Chinese team that he loved her at first site.  Despite the diplomatic disaster that relationship could have caused, the two were married and had Ben.  While the parents were able to collectively capture a silver and a pair of bronze medals, neither was able to obtain the gold.  Because golf is now back in the Olympics, Ben has a chance to add to the family collection.

I understand the wider golf community’s immediate lack of interest in golf’s return to the Olympics, but I find it slightly disheartening.  I personally doubt it will ever hold the same weight as a major, but I would hope it takes on significance comparable to the Ryder cup.  I find any event where nations compete for the love the game exciting, and hope that golf can assign the same gravity to the Olympics as most other sports have in time.

*This opinion, in no way, shape, or form, is shared by JK.

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Play of the Week 33

June 19, 2012

This week, I’m afraid I have to give the POTW to the USGA. Typically, I am not a fan of the US Open. When I’ve watched the tournament in years past, I’ve typically found it to be rather boring for a number of reasons. In most cases, it is pointlessly difficult, to where even the best in the world can make nothing of the courses (Oakmont, 2007; Shinnecock, 2004). In many cases, the winner is boring or surprising–as if we were playing the John Deere classic instead of a Major (e.g., Lucas Glover 2009, Angel Cabrera 2007, Michael Campbell 2005, Reteif Goosen 2001/2004). Often, it’s just a war of attrition, where the one player who’s lucky enough to find his ball on every hole manages to sift through the gauntlet and survive the fray (GMac, 2010). Or, the tournament is just boring (McIlroy, 2011).

But every few years, the USGA gets it right. One of the most memorable tournaments I’ve ever watched was the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, where Tiger edged Rocco Mediate with a gutsy performance that just outlasted one of the most tenacious players in the game. Or 1999, where the image of Payne Stewart sinking a 20-foot putt to save par on the 72nd hole has become an icon of the game of golf. But in 1999, although the winning score was -1, the course played fairly. It showcased how the greatest in the world (a very young Tiger, a younger than now Phil) could play when the pressure cooker was on, and Payne’s lasting legacy of 1-putting the last 3 holes to hold on was truly a riveting watch.

Like ’08 and ’99, this year, the USGA got it right. The US Open this year wasn’t flashy. It was a simple test–a par 70, even. No water hazards to fly over, no forced carries, not even more than a few fairway bunkers. But Olympic Club was just right. The winning score a nice +1, with Webb Simpson coming out on top over Jim Furyk–trying to hold on–and Graeme McDowell, who charged in at the end but couldn’t seal the deal. Webb posted his second 68 of the weekend hours before GMac and Furyk walked off the course, leaving the scene for great tension and excitement. Olympic was a true test–not just a slaughterhouse. It TESTED the best in the world, but the test could be passed. Players didn’t complain that it was unfair or say that it was too penal. Instead, they went about their business, and the winner played under par both rounds on the weekend. When was the last time you said that about a US Open winner? (well, other than 2011, when Rors was on an absolute tear, but who else?) And, for the second time this year, the winner of a major has come from a pairing other than the final group, which is some welcome excitement that we don’t often see.

I’m not saying this was as exciting as the Masters is every year, or that the US Open is no longer my least favorite of the majors. What the USGA typically does to the players isn’t right, on any level. But this year, the course was what a true test should be. When a player masters that test, he should get the trophy, and Webb did. So, to the USGA, we solute you. And, to Webb Simpson, congrats on passing the test.

us open olympic