ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.–Adam Scott says it all about golf in the Olympics.
“It’s not a priority of my scheduling next year,” Scott said before the upcoming Australian Masters. “The gap in the schedule there — some time off looks quite good, actually.”
I’ve beat this drum before, but Scott has me riled up again. There are so many things wrong with Olympic golf, where do we even begin?
Golf already has its Olympics. They’re called the four major championships. Golf is like tennis — it already has plenty of big championships and is competed globally. Neither sport needs another big event.
The scheduling isn’t a copout. The PGA Tour has its condensed finish and with the Olympics sandwiched in next year, it’s an even tighter fit. Here’s how it goes: British Open; regular Tour event; PGA Championship; regular event; Olympics; regular event; FedEx Cup, four tournaments in five weeks; Ryder Cup the week after the Tour Championship.
OK, Scott doesn’t have to worry about the Ryder Cup but still, that’s a lot of significant golf in a small window.
Growing the game? Olympic golf is about growing the game globally, the party line says. The game is already global. Since when did the Olympics become affirmative action to help grow the sport instead of being about competition among the world’s best athletes? Does anybody say, We need to grow the triple jump globally? Or, “Hey, we’ve got to build up hockey in Africa and South America?”
The format is ordinary. It’s just another 72-hole stroke-play event, just like every other tournament. Says Scott, “I’m not sure how just having another golf tournament is really going to enhance the game or grow the game any more than any other tournament just because it’s the Olympics,” Scott said. He said he would’ve preferred a mixed-team format with men and women together instead of separate men’s and women’s competitions.
That would’ve been a good idea. If one Olympic event cries out to be a team event, it’s golf. Maybe three-person teams or, like a college golf tournament, five-person teams and count the best four scores each day. Only 20 to 25 countries would be competitive, and you could have a cut after two rounds or go to team match play the way the NCAA tournament does now. Either way, the national pride factor and the level of play would be better than the current format.
The field is weak. Only 60 players tee it up — that barely qualifies as a tournament field. Worse, once the top 15 players in the World Ranking are in (with no more than four from any one country), a maximum of two players from each country is allowed. This means a lot of top players will be left out and players who rank outside of the top 300 in the world will be in.
Other sports have the same problem in the Olympics. The fifth-best Jamaican sprinter or Kenyan marathoner gets left out of the Olympics even though he or she may be among the top 10 in the world. The difference is, countries have qualifying events to make the teams, and then the Olympics have qualifying heats to determine the best athletes for the final in each sport.
Golf has no heats. It’s the equivalent of the Jamaican bobsled team affirmative action-ing its way right into the final. Instead of inviting only 60 players, why not invite 180 and have qualifying to determine the final field? You’d get better players.
A look at the current men’s field is available online. You can see a current list of the top 60 eligible players. Their world rankings aren’t included because that would be embarrassing. I did a cursory comparison to the Official World Golf Ranking and noted that the bottom 10, from 51-60, are all out of the top 200 in the World Rankings. Mardan Marmat of Singapore, ranked 321st, and Edoardo Molinari of Italy, ranked 340th, are in. So is Siddikur Rahman, nicknamed the Tiger Woods of Bangladesh, who is ranked 291st.
It’s worse in the women’s tournament. The bottom two entries now are Chloe Leurquin of Belgium, ranked 437th, and Victoria Lovelady of Brazil, 543rd.
Meanwhile, Korea has four of the top eight in the World Rankings and that doesn’t include No. 1 Lydia Ko, who was born in South Korea but gained New Zealand citizenship. Three other Korean players are in the top 15 but ineligible.
Again, the Olympic golf setup doesn’t even try to separate the wheat from the chaff, unlike every other Olympic sport. So you’ve got tiny 60-golfer fields in which half of those players, if entry was based on merit, wouldn’t even be there. It makes very little sense. Worse, it is easily correctible. It reminds me of the World Cup. I covered one at Lake Nona in the 1990s. It featured two-man teams, and one squad from a Middle East country was shooting in the high 80s. Worse, they went off early, helping to back up play and cause rounds of six-hours plus.
Let’s go back to Scott on golf in the Olympics: “I’ve been pretty open and outspoken that it’s not really a priority of my scheduling next year.”
If Scott decides to sit this one out, I’m behind him 100 percent. I get it. If golf is going to be in the Olympics, it should be one of the best tournaments of the year. Instead, it borders on being a joke. That said, if someone such as Felipe Aguilar of Chile, ranked 273rd, were to win a medal, it would be a huge upset and surely a feel-good story. So despite all the glitches, maybe Olympic golf will surprise us. But Scott and I don’t think so.