Commentary

Golf, IOC should get creative

Originally Published: August 13, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

CHASKA, Minn. -- Like playing the game itself, golf doesn't want to look too far ahead here. It has made it to the back nine of the Olympic quest with a comfortable lead, but doesn't want to accept any congratulations until holing out on the 18th green.

Tiger Woods would approach it that way, although this should be about as sure a bet as the game's No. 1 player having a lead Sunday.

Golf has been put forward -- along with rugby sevens -- as one of two sports recommended to be included in the 2016 Olympic Games. The final vote of the International Olympic Committee will not come until Oct. 9, but Thursday's news carries considerable weight.

"Clearly if we did not receive the recommendation, the great likelihood would be that our campaign for inclusion in the Olympic Games would be over, and so this is a very important next step in the process," PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw said Thursday at Hazeltine National, site of this week's PGA Championship.

Votaw has led a quickly thrown-together group of golf's governing bodies that is known as the International Golf Federation. Two years ago, there was no plan for golf in the Olympics. Given the alphabet soup of golf organizations (USGA, PGA Tour, PGA of America, LPGA and R&A, just to name a few) it is somewhat remarkable they all got on the same page so quickly and pulled this off.

So while they can't pop the champagne corks just yet, we can at least look at what should be considered as this push to include golf in the Olympics for the first time since 1904 continues … specifically, the format.

As part of the bid process, the IGF put forward a plan by which men and women would play a 72-hole stroke-play event in the Olympics -- which drew a collective yawn from the golf world, as that format is played week in and week out on the professional tours.

Votaw said the top players endorsed the plan and the IOC obviously have no problem with it.

"But we have always said we are flexible," he said. "We have always said we would take IOC feedback along this process to tweak either the eligibility requirements [or] the format."

Maybe somebody on the IOC committee plays golf and has engaged in spirited team competitions that involve best ball, alternate shot or even a scramble format. Even a team stroke-play competition would be better than what's on the table now.

And that is this: a 60-player competition for both men and women that would take place over 72 holes. The top 15 in the world rankings would automatically qualify, but beyond that only two players from each country would get to compete.

So based on the current men's rankings, six Americans would make the field, but No. 16 Anthony Kim would be left out. Individuals would compete for gold, silver and bronze medals with no team competition.

But golf is played on an individual basis every week. The major championships will always be the ultimate goal, and as rewarding as gold medal might be, it won't replace a Claret Jug or a green jacket.

That's why getting creative here might be more appealing. Why not a team competition like the one used at golf's World Cup? The Ryder Cup is so compelling because it brings golfers together as teammates and promotes a patriotic spirit.

"When it was initially mentioned to me, I was a bit against it, because I was of the view that an Olympic gold medal should be the pinnacle of your sport; whereas in golf I don't think it's ever going to be like that, with the four major championships," said England's Lee Westwood, who is ranked 13th in the world.

"But having sat down with people who know more about it than me, that have told me, you know -- what being involved with the Olympics and the fun that can come from being in the Olympics and the broadness of people that are obviously going to watch the Olympics that have never seen golf before -- it could involve more people in different countries as well, take it to more countries; then I think it's probably a good thing."

It will be much more fun if the players can compete doing something they don't normally do. A team aspect -- Votaw mentioned the possibility of three players from each country qualifying -- would only heighten the pride factor involved.

Golf's leaders see the Olympics as a way of growing the game, and they are right to be proud, even if they must suppress their giddiness for now.

But like Padraig Harrington, who said he'd "love to be an Olympian," victors never stand pat. They strive to improve. Once golf in the Olympics becomes official, there will be plenty of time to work out the details of a competition that would be bigger and better.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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