Lost a bit among the hubbub last week surrounding Michelle Wie’s near-miss at the SBS Open, Tiger Woods’s imminent return at the WGC Accenture Match Play, and Phil Mickelson’s victory at the Northern Trust Open was the International Golf Federation’s formal submission of a bid to have golf included in the 2016 Olympic Games. Whether the Olympics need golf, and vice-versa, is arguable. But let’s assume its inclusion is a worthy goal — a Good Thing.
The IGF is proposing 60-player fields for men and women, with the top 15 in the World Ranking automatically included, and no more than two players per country for any nation that does not already have two players in the top 15. The problem I have is with the format, which would be a 72-hole tournament, with three-hole playoffs to break ties for gold, silver and bronze medals. News accounts have reported that leading players think this is the best and fairest way to determine winners — just the way the majors and most other PGA Tour events do. A 72-hole event also would conveniently compress the amount of time that golfers would have to be at the Olympics, not unimportant given that the Games take place during the Tour season.
Still, the format strikes me as unimaginatively un-Olympian. It would be as satisfying as Michael Phelps racing against a stopwatch. What might be better, for instance, would be a literal mix-and-match competition. Start with two rounds of stroke play; cut to the top 16; then have four rounds of match play, with the semifinal losers playing for the bronze. This is similar to team events like basketball and hockey, which begin with pool play, then segue to medal rounds. To the argument that some players would only get in two rounds — well, wrestlers and boxers and sprinters get knocked out of competition early, too, but they still bask in Olympic glory.
If the Games are going to use a straight-out 72-hole format, then why not also have a team component, with two players per nation? You can still have an individual medalist — but you can award a gold for the low team, too.
Without some tweaks, Olympic golf will be merely the Valero Texas Open with medals.