Silver lining? Why postponing the Games would give Tiger one last chance to turn Olympic golf into a big deal

March 23, 2020

The International Olympic Committee has finally accepted what the rest of us have known for a while now: the Tokyo Games are going to be postponed. This is according to a USA Today exclusive with IOC member Dick Pound. Details will continue to leak out, but the postponement became inevitable over the last couple of days as various national teams made it known they would not be sending their athletes overseas in July while a pandemic rages. So what does this mean for golf?

At first blush, this feels like the second straight Olympic golf competition to be marred by a pernicious virus. The sport is still living down the shame of the great Zika scare of 2016, when every athlete in every sport from every country came to Rio… except male golfers. Rory McIlroy at least had the decency to admit after-the-fact that Zika was just an easy excuse not to show up for a group of athletes who did not grow up dreaming of Olympic glory. (Of course, these guys didn’t grow up dreaming about the FedEx Cup but they still get fired-up for that cash grab.)

Tokyo promised to be different. Even with Dustin Johnson withdrawing from consideration to focus on the FedEx Cup (insert eyeroll emoji) and Brooks Koepka waffling, the overall increased enthusiasm among the players was built on strong word-of-mouth; Rickie Fowler had such a great time in Rio representing the U-S-of-A he had the Olympic rings tattooed on his arm.

For some golfers those Games were a game-changer. In high school and college they may have been nerdy loners, but in Rio they were accepted as part of their respective national teams. They wore the same swag, ate at the same training tables, and worked out in the gym alongside the other athletes. The golfers finally got to feel both the support of a team and the respect of hardcore jocks. And seeing the lusty celebrations of gold medal winner Justin Rose helped shift sentiment a bit, too. As always, there are commercial considerations in explaining the uptick in interest for the Tokyo Games: Asia is a much bigger golf market than South America, so this time around Olympic success could help a player move product and scoop up fat endorsement appearances.

So the postponement of these Games feels like just another bummer in a string of sad news as this golf season continues to unravel. But there is a monumental silver lining: pushing the Games to next summer (as seems inevitable) will greatly enhance Tiger Woods’ chances of making the team and therefore turning Olympic golf into a big deal. Imagine Woods leading the entire American delegation into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies, waving the stars and stripes – it would be a goosebumps moment that evokes Magic Johnson in Barcelona.

Tiger, 44, has openly coveted a spot on the U.S. team, knowing this is likely the last chance for the son of a Green Beret to represent his country. It would be a spectacular experience to share with his kids, who have become a powerful source of late-career motivation. But so far this season a bad back, mediocre play and a limited schedule has left Woods on the outside looking in. Bumping the Games to next summer will hopefully give Tiger time to get his body right, find some form and make a push to secure a spot on the U.S. team. That would definitely be worth the wait.

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