An Olympic (Golf) Dream
AN OLYMPIC DREAM
Written by Kevin Markham
Before Tokyo 2020, Rory McIlroy showed a lack of enthusiasm by responding to a question about winning an Olympic medal: "I don't know what it would mean. I never dreamed of that. I dreamed of Claret Jugs and green jackets.”
After a seven-way battle for Bronze, he admitted: “I never tried so hard in my life to finish third.”
From a player’s perspective it is easy to understand how the desire to win can overcome any misgivings… but do we feel the same way?
Golf in its current Olympics format is pointless. It will turn off far more people than it attracts. The question facing the International Olympics Committee and golf’s governing bodies is how to produce an event that appeals to golfers and non-golfers alike.
Rory’s conversion may lure other reluctant Professionals to compete in France in 2024, but what about the rest of us? What about the viewers? Were we excited by what we saw?
Consider this, Olympics golf is not aimed at us regular golf viewers: the Olympics philosophy is about bringing sport – in this case golf – to a global, non-golfing audience in an attempt to entice people into the game.
And that begs the question: will four rounds of strokeplay achieve that? Will four rounds of strokeplay contested by multi-millionaires who play the same format for hundreds of thousands of dollars, week-in, week-out, actually appeal to a non-golfing audience?
Oh sure, a seven-man playoff for Bronze produced some fireworks but who remembers (or cares) what happened over the first three days? Not me. Not any non-golfer who tuned in and realised they’d have to wait four days to find out who won a medal.
Golf in its current Olympics format is pointless. It will turn off far more people than it attracts. The question facing the International Olympics Committee and golf’s governing bodies is how to produce an event that appeals to golfers and non-golfers alike… while making it a worthwhile and exciting spectacle.
The argument to have only amateurs taking part is, while valid, an outdated concept. Many of the athletes in other Olympic sports are professionals and while I would certainly applaud the event being contested by the world’s best amateurs, it should have been introduced in Rio. Now, it is too late.
Could you limit the field by age? So only Professionals under a certain age – say 25 – could compete. Would that work? No. Why should an arbitrary age be a parameter? It wouldn’t make a jot of difference.
What about the event format? This, for me, is the answer. Four days of strokeplay is a yawn-fest. Mix it up. Look at the Ryder Cup format and how that creates a massive buzz among the golfers playing, never mind the viewers. Forget four days, make it three. Make it a team event that would see pairings of US golfers competing against pairs from Ireland, GB, France, Japan, South Korea, Peru, Australia, etc. Make each round different: Day 1 is a fourball format; Day 2 is foursomes; Day 3 is singles… or a two-person scramble.
Show the world of non-golfers how golf can be played and enjoyed in different formats, requiring different strategies.
Now here’s the punchline: make it mixed.
Tokyo 2020 introduced several mixed events (from sprinting to artistic swimming!) and golf is the perfect environment for that. Golf has long faced the challenge of attracting more women into the sport so why not put Xander Schauffele and Nelly Korda together and show how they form a team, side by side, hole after hole, discussing tactics and rooting for each other. That is what golf in the Olympics should embrace. That is a golf event I would watch.
You and I both know it’s never going to happen but dare to dream.