Golf as an Olympic sport would be great, but it will never happen

Saturday August 9th, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — There's a movement afoot to make golf an Olympic sport by 2016. At the earliest. You've heard of things moving at a glacial pace? The phrase "Olympic movement" is oxymoronic.

In any event, the PGA Tour is committed to making golf part of the Olympic spectacle. Phil Mickelson is totally supportive of the idea. Frank Nobilo, the former Tour player who is now on the Golf Channel, said the other day that golf doesn't need the Olympics. Nick Faldo said recently that he'd be in favor of golf in the Olympics if it were an amateur sport.

It's a great idea, amateur golf in the Summer Games, but it will never happen. You will see professional topless Scrabble in the Olympics before you see amateur anything. In the past 30 years, the IOC has shown that its chief interest is increasing TV ratings, which means having only the best athletes in the world competing. That means pros, not amateurs. For many of us, that's killed our interest in the Games, but so what? We'll always have "The Miracle on Ice."

Lefty, as he often does, had a strong and well-considered opinion that was supported by facts. He said, "I think that golf as an Olympic sport is exponentially more important to the game of golf than the majors. And the reason for that is it would bring in 168 different countries and their Olympic foundations and all those revenues would go towards the growth of the game."

He also made the point, and here he shows again why he's one of the brightest players in the game, that the television coverage of the major championships is watched by people who "are already interested in the game." Olympic golf on TV would be watched by . . . fans of the Olympics. Of which there are millions upon millions of people, in countries like China and India where golf is barely an afterthought (though growing).

When Billy Payne was bringing the Olympics to Atlanta in 1996, he tried to bring golf into the picture, proposing a tournament be held at Augusta National, in August, when the course is closed. Payne, then not even a member of Augusta National and now the club's chairman, got then-chairman Jack Stephens to agree to the idea. But it never really had traction with the IOC, which felt the whole effort was way too last-minute, and with some Atlanta politicians, who objected to Augusta National because it had no women members. Just typing those sentences is a powerful reminder of Nobilo's take: golf doesn't need the Olympics.

There's a wonderful rhythm to the golf season now: spring at Augusta; Father's Day at the U.S. Open; the British Open in mid-summer by the sea; the PGA Championship before the kids go back to the school. The FedEx Cup will never become a truly important golf competition because it's rooted in the wrong thing. It's rooted in the desire to make money for somebody. If Olympic golf were an amateur event, as Faldo wishes, it would be a completely different and worthwhile thing, but that's not going to happen.

Payne, in his role as the chairman of Augusta National, says regularly that one of the things the Masters should do, through its TV coverage, is grow the game throughout the world. He's in a great place to say that because he's not trying to make money from the game. He just believes — as you and I do — that golf's a great game and that the more people who play the better. Mickelson's stance is an inspiring one, really, but ultimately more trouble than its worth. Olympic baseball did nothing to improve baseball. A true World Series, on the other hand — emphasis on the word "world" — would be a very cool thing.

Could that happen? Give the Olympic movement a few decades to think about it. Add in global warming. Factor in the interest of professional golfers in playing golf for no money in bad weather in foreign countries. No, it's not happening.\n

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