Editor's Letter: Golf in the Olympics

Editor’s Letter: Golf in the Olympics

tiger-woods-double-fistpump_299x449_0.jpg
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.