Editor's Letter: Golf in the Olympics

Thursday July 23rd, 2009
Gold standard: If golf makes the Olympics, Team USA would likely feature top names such as Woods (above), Mickelson, Kim and Mahan.

You hold in your hands our 50th Anniversary issue, which looks back on the last half century of golf. But I'd like to spend this letter looking forward.

In June, the most important story in golf didn't play out on the damp fairways of Bethpage Black but in a conference room in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee. There, golf made its pitch for a berth in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, in 2016.

At one end of a long rectangular table sat the golf contingent, including International Golf Federation Executive Director Ty Votaw, golf great Annika Sorenstam, and Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie. At the other end, patiently listening to oral and PowerPoint presentations, was IOC President Jacques Rogge, flanked by several committee members. Team Golf finished with a short video that played on the four-sided TV monitor in the center of the table. It features 16 top players (among them Tiger Woods, Lorena Ochoa and Camilo Villegas) explaining why their sport and the Olympics would fit like a golf glove. The video's climactic moment dramatically juxtaposes Tiger's double-barreled fist-pump from the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines with an image of a fiery Michael Phelps from the Beijing Games. (To watch the video, visit internationalgolffederation.org).

Click. The presentation came to an end. The captive audience was captivated. The room erupted into applause.

"That was very gratifying," says Votaw, who has been co-championing golf's Olympic bid. The IOC has two available program slots to fill for 2016, and insiders say that golf — competing against rugby sevens, baseball, softball, squash, karate and roller sports — is the clubhouse leader to secure one of them, with the final decision coming in October. "We gave it our best," Votaw says. "If someone comes along and shoots a 62, you still feel good about shooting a 63."

Nothing — not the majors, not the Ryder Cup, not even Tiger's historic pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' records — is as important to golf's future as an Olympic berth. The reasons are many, but here are two.

First, millions of young people worldwide would be captivated by the sport, leading to a growth explosion. "Look at what the Dream Team in the 1992 Games in Barcelona did for basketball," Votaw says. "I don't think there were 300 million people playing basketball in China [before 1992], but there are now."

Second, if golf becomes an Olympic event, the IOC will help fund its growth in underdeveloped countries such as China, India, Russia and parts of South America and Asia. We're talking about a spikes-on-the-ground, grassroots effort — lessons, new courses, clubs in kids' hands — that will not happen otherwise. An Olympic berth would also be an economic shot in the arm for the sport in this chilling global economy. Votaw told me, "More people playing means more people buying clubs, clothes, equipment, watching on TV, and reading golf magazines."

Yes, golf needs the Olympics, but the Olympics needs golf, too. It's the greatest sport with the greatest athlete. Imagine: Summer, 2016 in, perhaps, Chicago (one of the cities vying to host.) Tiger is 40. Crow's feet frame his lively eyes. This son of a black man and a Thai woman, this living symbol of international athleticism, bows his head to accept his gold medal, the crowning achievement of a sublime career. In every sense of the word, the moment would be Olympian.

Golf has seen some radical changes over the last 50 years. As the game crouches at the starting line poised to sprint into the next half century, an Olympic berth would send it blazing out of the starting blocks.

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